Tenor saxophonist Tina Brooks was one of the unsung geniuses of the horn, a brilliant soloist with a pure, smooth tone and a mind that created patterns of great intricacy, logic and beauty. Almost his entire output as a sideman and leader was for Blue Note. His obscurity was a tragedy for the music as well as for him.
Harold Lloyd “Tina” Brooks and his twin brother Harry were born to David and Cornelia Brooks in Fayetteville, North Carolina, on June 7, 1932. They were the youngest of eight children. This close-knit family migrated en masse to the Bronx in New York City in 1944, when Harold was 12 years old. He was already being called Tina (pronounced Teena), a grade school nickname that came from his tiny or teensy size. Around this time, he started playing the C Melody saxophone. In addition to school instruction, he took private lessons with his older brother David Brooks Jr., whose nickname is Bubba. Tina moved from C Melody to alto and finally settled on the tenor as his instrument.
Meanwhile, Bubba was becoming established as an R&B tenor saxophonist. In 1950, he joined pianist Sonny Thompson's band. When he took a leave of absence in late 1950, Tina took his chair for a few months. In January of '51, Tina made his recording debut on one of Thompson's many King sessions done in Cleveland.
Throughout the early fifties, Tina worked with local New York Latin bands and various R&B outfits such as those of singer-pianist Charles Brown and trumpeter Joe Morris. In '53 or '54, he went on the road with pianist Amos Milburn. He then joined Lionel Hampton's orchestra for the spring and summer of 1955. But he found this to be little more than another R&B gig with little room to stretch out.