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True Blue: Tina Brooks

Tina Brooks True Blue

I’m surprised that I have not written about True Blue before now. My recent acquisition of an excellent Music Matters copy on vinyl presents me with an opportunity to put that right though.

In 2001 in Blue Note Records: The Biography, Richard Cook wrote: ‘This is one of the forgotten masterpieces of the Blue Note catalogue.’ Thankfully, diligent work from Michael Cuscuna and a series of reissues has made this gem readily available.

Tina Brooks was one of a select group of female artists who played on the New York scene and were recorded by Blue Note.

No he wasn’t! His actual name was Harold and Tina was a childhood nickname, deriving from ‘tiny’ or ‘teeny’. Although he recorded four self-led sessions with Blue Note between 1958 and 1961, True Blue was the only recording issued with him as leader in his lifetime. He played on notable sessions with Jimmy Smith and Kenny Burrell but it has been suggested that, with a reserved and shy demeanour, he didn’t push his own case sufficiently well with Blue Note for the label to issue strong sets including Minor Move and Back to The Tracks (which are both in my collection). He never recorded again after 1961 and played local gigs in The Bronx. TB died in obscurity in 1974 after a life marred by drug-related illness. He was a contender who, perhaps, could have been a king. There’s a piece entitled ‘Who killed Tina Brooks’ which you can find if you want to know more- but I’ve not linked to it here as those in the know have suggested that it is unjust in its criticism of TB’s treatment by Blue Note.

Good Old Soul is the first of five Tina Brooks compositions here. It has a slinky feel about it and an extended solo from TB which shows his command of his tenor. A 22 year old Freddie Hubbard is also on fine form here too, as is Duke Jordan on piano.

Up Tight’s Creek bops and bustles along and after a bright trumpet solo from Hubbard, features a fluent tenor contribution. Duke Jordan’s piano is also worth pausing to listen to.

Theme for Doris is a mid-paced piece that is pleasing and again showcases TB’s inventiveness as a soloist.

True Blue opens the second side of the set. To these ears there’s something that conjures images of Sixties city architecture, all concrete, glass and straight lines- in the most unlikely event that I produce a TV documentary about The Barbican, you now know part of the soundtrack. What do you think (courtesy of YouTube)?

To play touch or click on the arrow

Miss Hazel is a conventional hard bop piece with another flowing tenor solo followed by Hubbard and Jordan.

Nothing Ever Changes My Love for You is the only standard tune here. Written by Jack Segal and Marvin Fisher, it had been a hit for Nat King Cole in 1956.

There is a collection of Tina Brooks complete works available on Mosaic. When compiling this Michael Cuscuna went to Freddie Hubbard, whose career had flourished. His memories of Tina Brooks were warm ones and he recalled TB’s talent and strengths as a musician.

The sound quality of the Music Matters pressing of True Blue is excellent on my Rega RP6/Naim/Spendor system. If you don’t have any of his recordings you should consider seeking some out. True Blue particularly benefits from working as a showcase for TB’s musicianship and compositional skills. It is an album where the tunes fit well together and has a greater sense of unity than some Blue Note sessions where the artist seems to want to cover too much ground by including a distracting variety of styles. Often a straight ahead tune will be followed by a snippet of Bossa, a sprinkle of standard and a slice of ballad with the sum total lacking a true centre. That’s not the case here though.

The RVG series CD has alternate takes of True Blue and Good Old Soul from the same session. The version of True Blue which omits the piano for the first eight bars of the intro is of particular interest.

The band etc: Tina Brooks (tenor saxophone); Freddie Hubbard (trumpet); Duke Jordan (piano); Sam Jones (bass); Art Taylor (drums). Recorded: 25 June 1960. Rudy Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. Produced: Alfred Lion. Recorded: Rudy Van Gelder. Sleeve Notes: Ira Gitler. Cover design: Reid Miles. Cover photos: Francis Wolff. Issued as Blue Note 84041.

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