Harvey Brooks

Biography by

Following a stream is a good course of action when lost in the woods, but listeners trying to find their way through the classic jazz of the '20s and '30s may find it hard to tell one brook from another.…
Read Full Biography

Artist Biography by

Following a stream is a good course of action when lost in the woods, but listeners trying to find their way through the classic jazz of the '20s and '30s may find it hard to tell one brook from another. This is especially true in the case of pianist and composer Harvey Brooks, no relation to but often confused with pianist and composer Harry Brooks. The latter man is the one who co-wrote "Ain't Misbehavin'," among many other titles in a catalog as thick as a rich-man's wallet. Harvey Brooks, on the other hand, was a journeyman keyboard artist whose career began in the early '20s on tour with classic blues singer Mamie Smith; the final word on who he is not is that he is also not related to the prolific studio bassist of the same name.

The pianist Brooks headed for California after leaving Smith's employ. He became one of the co-leaders of the Quality Four combo, also involving Paul Howard, for whom he also followed marching orders in Paul Howard's Quality Serenaders through 1930. The first half of the subsequent decade was a splash of dates with Les Hite's Orchestra across the calendar pages, but following this experience Brooks decided to lead his own outfit. While attempting to establish this group, he also began working as a music director on film projects.

New Orleans jazz listeners of the early '50s began noticing the steady yet lively pianist as part of the Kid Ory band, from which his next step was a band led by trumpeter Teddy Buckner. In the late '50s, Brooks performed with Louisiana reedman Joe Darensbourg. The Young Men of New Orleans ensemble developed into Brooks' passion in the '60s, and at the time of his death he was operating as this fine ensemble's leader.