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Drummer Roy Brooks Dies

Detroit-based jazz musician Roy Brooks, a skilled drummer who performed with many of jazz’s most important names during the 1960s, died Wednesday at Detroit Receiving Hospital at age 67. While Brooks was a widely respected and talented musician, playing with everyone from Horace Silver to Yusef Lateef to Charles Mingus, he never achieved the widespread fame of many of his contemporaries because much of his adult life was spent battling bipolar disease.

Born Sept. 3, 1938 in Detroit, Brooks got his first gig with Silver after a Louis Hayes, a fellow drummer and friend of Brooks’, left Silver’s group and recommended the 21-year-old Brooks as a replacement. From his urban Detroit upbringing, Brooks had a style that blended bebop and R&B, making him a natural fit for Silver’s hard-bop quintet.

From 1959 until 1964, Brooks spent his time with Horace Silver, traveling the country and recording eight albums, including the seminal Song for My Father. After his successful stint with Silver, Brooks moved to New York City and spent the next 11 years there. He flourished in the city’s creative jazz scene and spent time on the cusp of modern jazz, playing with fellow musicians including Lateef and Mingus, along with Milt Jackson, Randy Weston, Dizzy Gillespie, Chet Baker and Dexter Gordon. In addition to his work with contemporaries, Brooks also formed his own band, the Artistic Truth, and attracted some of the best young talent around. From his work with the band, he mentored young musicians including Woody Shaw, Sonny Fortune and Reggie Workman.

But despite his talent and the respect he commanded, he was known to have the occasional emotional outburst, leading other musicians to become a bit wary of working with him.

In 1966, Brooks met his wife-to-be, Hermine; the couple moved back to Detroit in 1975 so that Brooks could care for his ailing mother. While he still kept in touch with his New York friends, and spent a good deal of time touring with Max Roach and his group, M’Boom, Brooks’ outbursts and general ill-feeling grew worse and interfered with his playing.

“He had a lot of setbacks. He’d come back from M’Boom and then they would wait for his to get better again before going back out. He’d try a medication and it would make him so sick. He’d say, ‘I can’t play, I can’t hear the music,'” Hermine told JazzTimes in October 2002. Brooks eventually found lithium and used it on and off to regulate his bipolar disease.

Despite these struggles, during this time Brooks spent much time in the Detroit jazz scene. He brought back his Artistic Truth band and cast it will all Detroit musicians and began mentoring musicians from around the area, teaching and guiding them. But he and his family were never financially secure, a likely factor that led to his increasingly worse condition and the longer intervals between him taking his lithium. By the mid-1990s, his erratic behavior was public, and so was his downfall. After verbally threatening neighbors and threatening physical harm, he was arrested and sent to prison in 2000. He was released in 2004, thanks to the support of many in the community, including Congressman John Conyers (D-Michigan) – the man who moved to make the federal government declare jazz a “national treasure.” After his release, Brooks spent the rest of his life in a Detroit nursing home.

Brooks is survived by his wife and two songs, Raheem and Richard Pinkston. The funeral will be held Tuesday at Swanson Funeral Home, 14751 W. McNichols, Detroit.

Originally Published