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Gil Coggins: 1924-2004
Gil Coggins

Born: August 23, 1924 in Harlem, New York
Died: February 15, 2004 in New York, New York

Pianist with Coltrane, Miles, McLean

by Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2004 Todd S. Jenkins

Bop pianist Gil Coggins died at New York's Terence Cardinal Cook Health Care Center on February 15, 2004, at the age of 79. He had been injured in a serious auto accident on June 8, 2003, and was unable to recover from his injuries.

Gilbert Lloyd Coggins was born in Harlem on August 8, 1924, to Barbadian immigrants George and Winifred Coggins. His mother was a pianist who paid for his private lessons with her earnings as a domestic worker. He was educated in both New York City and Barbados. He served in the Army in St. Louis, Missouri, where his sergeant was tap dancer Honey Coles. While in St. Louis he met 16-year-old Miles Davis, who was playing in a bar band at a local bowling alley. They struck up a friendship which led to Coggins' participation in several of Davis' Prestige and Blue Note recording sessions in the early 1950s. The pianist also performed and recorded with John Coltrane, Lester Young, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Sonny Rollins, tubaist Ray Draper, and his student, Jackie McLean, during the 50s. His philosophy of life was summed up in his catchphrase "vossa vusa", which roughly meant "keep on truckin'".

While touring in Montreal, Canada, Coggins met Donna Rosen who became his wife. Despite keeping auspicious company in jazz, Coggins never achieved the high profile of contemporaries like Horace Silver, Billy Taylor and Kenny Drew. He only rarely recorded as a leader (Gil's Mood, 1990, Interplay; Better Late Than Never, 2003, Smalls Records) and was mostly content to work the club scene. At the time of his injury he held down a regular Saturday night gig at the C-Note in the East Village.

Gil Coggins is survived by his daughter Jilene, stepdaughters Kim and Renee; grandson Kingston; ex-wife Donna Rosen Coggins; brother Wilfred; and various cousins, in-laws and friends.

(Many thanks to Luke at Smalls Records for contributing vital information.)

Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.


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