Tom P. Brown was born in Uptown New Orleans, Louisiana. His younger brother Steve Brown also became a prominent professional musician. He played trombone with the bands of Papa Jack Laine and Frank Christian; by 1910 usually worked leading bands under his own name. The band played in a style then locally known as "hot ragtime" or "ratty music". In early 1915, his band was heard by Vaudeville dancer Joe Frisco who then arranged a job for Brown's band in Chicago, Illinois.