Tina Brooks: Tina Brooks: True Blue - 1960

Marc Davis By

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It’s a shame Tina Brooks never became a big player. He had the chops and the feel.
I love finding little-known records by almost-unknown artists.

There's nothing wrong with soaking in the comfortable pool of guys you know oh-so-well. I can listen to Art Blakey, Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell all day. But even the greats can wear you out. How many times can you listen to the Beatles' "Hey Jude" before the na-na-na-na's get tiresome? For those moments, it's nice to sample a one-hit wonder.

Tina Brooks is that guy.

Granted, if you're a Blue Note fan, you may have heard Tina—real name Harold—before. He shows up ever-so-briefly in the late 1950 and early '60s on a few good records by Smith, Burrell and Freddie Hubbard. But during his lifetime, the saxman saw only one album released under his own name.

That record, True Blue, is pretty good. It's one of my go-to records when I'm in the mood for hard bop that's refreshing but not overly familiar.

As the name implies, the 1960 album is full of bluesy numbers. No surprise, since Brooks sprouted from the same fertile Blue Note bop-blues field that produced fellow saxmen Lou Donaldson, Dexter Gordon and Hank Mobley.

The band is rock solid: Hubbard on trumpet, Duke Jordan on piano, Sam Jones on bass, Art Taylor on drums and Brooks on tenor. Jordan, who is not exactly well-known himself, has a light, melodic touch. A young Freddie Hubbard, only 22 here, sounds like a lot of Blue Note trumpeters of the period, including early Miles Davis and Kenny Dorham.

True Blue has a nice mix of tunes. Five of the six are originals written by Brooks, and they're all pretty terrific. Two are straight-up, smoky blues numbers. The title track has a catchy R&B riff and beautiful horn solos. Two tracks are hard bop romps. Two have Latin feels. There are no ballads, alas.

The two horns, Brooks and Hubbard, are the standouts. They play great together, and when they play separately, they are bold, sassy and, yeah, bluesy.

It's a shame Tina Brooks never became a big player. He had the chops and the feel. Unfortunately, he also had a fondness for drugs. Like so many jazzmen before and since, the habit killed his career, then it killed him.

In recent years, Brooks has become a cult favorite. I like him a lot. Not much survives on CD under his own name as leader, because his recording career was so short, but this is the starting point. It's a goodie.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)

Availability: Plenty of used copies on Amazon

Cost: Not one of those $1 or $2 cheapies, but you can get it for around $6 used, $10 new

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