Saturday, February 1, 2003

Obituary: Billy Brooks, trumpeter

West End native even invented his own horn

By Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mr. Brooks

Julius E. Brooks followed the music.

He was better known as Billy Brooks, which, while not a household name, was one that loomed large in the world of American jazz.

A trumpeter who made his own "skoonum horn" - a double-barreled trumpet - Mr. Brooks played for music legends, including The Four Tops, The Temptations, Tina Turner, Ray Charles, Dizzy Gillespie and Lionel Hampton, with whom he toured for 18 years.

And he helped introduce American jazz to audiences the world over. A short list of Mr. Brooks' venues include Mexico, Canada, England, Denmark, Sweden, Austria, Italy, Japan, Israel and South Africa.

Countless musicians proudly list playing with Billy Brooks on their resumes.

Mr. Brooks continued to write, play and record music until his death Dec. 24 in Amsterdam, the city he called home for the past 17 years. The West End native was 76.

Born in Mobile, Ala., on Aug. 16, 1926, Billy and his mother, Irene Bloxon, moved to the West End to live with a relative who operated a rooming house.

That his mother had graduated from the eighth grade was a source of pride for her, recalls Billy's daughter, Paulette Brooks of Bond Hill. "That was a big thing in the South."

But Bloxon wanted her son to go further.

Working as a waitress, she saw to it that Billy received a Catholic education. He went on to graduate from Wilberforce University and to study the trumpet at The Juilliard School.

After college, Mr. Brooks returned to Cincinnati and formed a band called the Billy Brooks' Bebop Band. That's what he was doing when his daughter was born.

Mr. Brooks stayed in Cincinnati until his mother died, then headed to Los Angeles to make it big. He spent a year playing with Tina Turner and appeared on albums with The Four Tops. He spent 18 years touring all over the world with Lionel Hampton.

Mr. Brooks went wherever there were people who loved jazz. He taught trumpet as a community service and performed free concerts in addition to the paying gigs.

He headed to Amsterdam 17 years ago when interest in jazz seemed to give way to rap, his daughter said.

Throughout the years Mr. Brooks wrote a trumpet warm-up book.

He fashioned his own double-barreled horn and never stopped dreaming about its success.

In a letter to his daughter dated March 25, 1999, he wrote, "I once had a patent of my `Skoonum,' but time passed and no manufacturers, so now I still have my trademark in England and Netherlands. I still would like to get it on the worldwide market for sale."

He noted that he was nearly 73 and had had "a good life, comes what may."

In his later years, Mr. Brooks recruited some of his fellow musician friends in Amsterdam to form a big band he called the "Rainbow Peace Orchestra."

Kees Polling, in an online review of the band's debut, noted that the performance wasn't perfect but "motivation and commitment were undeniably there."

"According to Brooks it doesn't have to be perfect. His Rainbow Peace Orchestra is kind of a learning orchestra. Brooks himself has a small role. Once in a while he reaches for his `skoonum horn,' a self-made double-barrel trumpet, just to stir things up. Musicians and audience couldn't get enough of it."

In addition to his daughter, Paulette, Mr. Brooks - who was married and divorced four times - is survived by 10 other children. His remains were cremated in Amsterdam, where his friends held a memorial service.


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