Harold Floyd Brooks was born in Fayetteville, North Carolina, and was the brother of David “Bubba” Brooks. The nickname “Tina”, pronounced Teena, was a variation of “Teeny”, a childhood moniker. His favourite tune was “My Devotion”. He studied harmony and theory with Herbert Bourne.
Initially, he studied the C-melody saxophone, which he began playing shortly after he moved to New York with his family in 1944. Brooks’ first professional work came in 1951 with rhythm and blues pianist Sonny Thompson, and in 1955 Brooks played with vibraphonist Lionel Hampton. Brooks also received less formal guidance from trumpeter and composer “Little” Benny Harris, who led the saxophonist to his first recording as a leader. Harris, in fact, was the one who recommended him to Blue Note Records producer Alfred Lion in 1958.