Tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks was a supremely trained hard bopper with a passionate full sound and soulful compositional prowess. Tina Brooks should have been a major jazz artist, but his legacy is confined to a series of dates that he did for Blue Note as a sideman and leader. Brooks ran into trouble at the height of his career and spent the last decade of his life unsuccessfully trying to find his way back. Brooks was one of the most brilliant, if not underrated tenor saxophonists in modern jazz.
Brooks is best known for his work for Blue Note Records between 1958 and 1961, recording primarily as a sideman with Kenny Burrell, Freddie Hubbard, Jackie McLean, Freddie Redd, and Jimmy Smith. As a leader, he recorded only four albums for the label—two of which were never released at the time and only came to light after 1980. Brooks would not record again after 1961.
Fortunately, the ten years of his incandescent recording career reveal his ability to construct brilliantly logical and lyrical improvisations, and are now available again for listeners to discover.
Some of the records he made during this period are now considered classics by jazz fans, but Brooks didn’t record again after 1961. He’d become addicted to heroin, and spiraled steadily downward over the next dozen years. Although he did work in clubs whenever possible, his health inevitably deteriorated and he finally became unable to perform and died of liver failure at age 42.
Tina Brooks’ passionate full sound and forward-looking style, along with his exceptional compositional gifts, made him a powerful force during his prime years. Brooks’ star burned with intense brightness for a brief period before disappearing in the same tragic manner of too many other young bop players of the time.
Tina Brooks was a magnificent talent who was among us all too briefly. He was a unique, sensitive improviser who could weave beautiful and complex tapestries through his horn. His lyricism, unity of ideas and inner logic were astounding. Far lesser talents have been far more celebrated.