I’ve written several times about musicians who lost long stretches of their prime performing years to their struggles with drugs and fought their way back, but there were some who didn’t do so well. A good example might be Harold ‘Tina’ Brooks, a supremely talented hard-bop tenor saxophonist who ran into trouble at the height of his career and spent the last decade of his life unsuccessfully trying to find his way back.
While growing up in Fayetteville, North Carolina, young Harold Floyd Brooks was often called ‘Teeny’, and by the time his family moved to New York in the mid-1940s his nickname had morphed to ‘Tina’. By then he’d also spent some time preparing for a musical career, and by the 1950s he began to find some success in the New York jazz world.
In the early days Brooks worked in everything from Latin-style groups to R&B combos, and even spent some time in Lionel Hampton’s big band. Eventually he began moving toward modern jazz and working with pros like Benny Harris, who later recruited him to work with the legendary jazz organist Jimmy Smith on a series of sessions for Blue Note Records.
It would be the beginning of several good years for Brooks, during which he collaborated with stars like Freddie Hubbard and Jackie McLean and led his own group too. 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. He died in 1974, just 42 years old.