Pianist Gil Coggins had an extremely brief career in jazz but nonetheless managed to score the type of sideman credits everyone else wants--in other words, he made records with Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins. "I knew Miles when he was a yard," the ultimate cool cat is supposed to brag, but Davis was actually only 16 years old when Coggins met him. The pianist was only two years Davis' senior at this point, an army soldier stationed at Jefferson Barracks near St. Louis, Missouri. As for Davis, he had a gig playing his trumpet at a bowling alley near the base. The tap dancer Honey Coles was also Coggins' sergeant in this period. Coggins eventually played on sessions with Davis that were released on labels such as Blue Note and Prestige.
The pianist's parents were West Indian. His mother, Winifred Coggins played a repertoire of largely hymns on the piano and used much of the money from her job as a domestic to pay for her son to get keyboard lessons. Young Coggins went to school in both New York City and Barbados. The army encounter with Davis may have served as an important catylyst--at any rate, something happened that made Coggins take piano more seriously, since prior to joining the army he had not played professionally at all. He got into the thick of things quickly, also performing with Coltrane, Lester Young, Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, Rollins, tubaist Ray Draper as well as the young Jackie McLean, who for a time was Coggins' student.
In 1954 he began selling real estate, a career decision that Colonel Bruce Hampton (Ret.) actually suggested was a good idea for musicians in a song lyric decades later. The pianist recorded as a leader only during the end of his career, including the Gil's Mood album for the Interplay label in 1990. Coggins died in early 2004 as the result of a car accident in Forest Hills, New York. At the time, he was still performing regularly. He was credited with inventing a personal catch-phrase to summarize his life philosophy: "vossa vusa", translated by some pundits as "keep on truckin'".