It often fascinates me how differently we all spend our lives. For some, it is off to adventure in various parts of the world, for others a more settled existence closer to home. I am often moved when I read of those who "laid it all out there', and when the end comes, well, it's just the end. Such is the beautiful story that Jeri Rowe relates in the Spring Issue of the UNC-G Magazine about Greensboro's Buddy Gist.
In his later years, Buddy could be seen walking everywhere in Greensboro. Always in a sharp suit, as Jeri says, "he looked like a modern day Fredrick Douglas wherever he went." Buddy came from a prominent Greensboro black family. His mother ran Magnolia House, a hotel used by many prominent black entertainers during the Jim Crow era, where she introduced her family to the likes of Louis Armstrong. Rowe said, "Armstrong was said to love Mama Gist's ham biscuits with maple syrup." Buddy's brother Herman became a State Senator.
In his 20s, Buddy took off for New York City. There he went from waiter to entrepreneur. He sold cars and coffee and befriended some of the biggest names in Jazz. He knew Count Basie and Coltrane. Miles Davis became a close friend. A UNC-G grad student in Jazz loved Buddy's stories but always wondered if they were true. He went to see Bill Cosby at VCU in Richmond a while back, and afterward he caught up with Crosby and said, "Hey Bill, your friend Buddy Gist sends his regards." That stopped Cosby in his tracks. "Buddy Gist is still alive?", he said. Buddy was telling the gospel truth.
In recent years, Buddy donated virually his only possession, a Miles Davis' trumpet, valued at $1.6 million, to UNC-G, "because Miles would have wanted it that way", Buddy says. Also in recent years, Buddy became homeless and could be seen in sleeping in Center City Park before he was "rescued " by some UNC-G musicians and helped to a shelter and then to a nursing home. They come from all over to visit him. At age 85, he's in bad shape now.
His friend O. T. Wells, 78, and an attorney in New York City, who was talked in to going to New York City from Greensboro by Buddy in 1956, called Buddy the "bon vivant" of the scene in The Big City. Upon Wells arrival in NYC in the '50s, Buddy introduced him the Miles Davis and Wells remained Miles' attorney over the years. Wells came to visit Buddy before Christmas. Rowe said he visited Buddy's bedside and said loudly, Arthur Taswell Gist, this is O. T. Wells from New York City." Buddy didn't wake up . I'm sure they had an abundance of good times in the past, they and their other buddys in The Big City, those who chose "to lay it all out there".
This is a beautiful story. Please find and read Jeri Rowe's account of Buddy Gist. Well done, Jeri. Above is a photo of Buddy on the left, with his friend Miles Davis on the right, "out on the town". The other is a photo of Buddy and Miles' trumpet which he donated to UNC-G. The Miles Davis Jazz Festival is April 16 at UNC-G. It will feature saxaphonist Lee Konitz, who performed on Miles Davis' "Birth of the Cool in 1949. Should be something else.
Below is a Buddy "live" telling us about the Miles' Trumpet.
And if you are not familiar with Miles Davis: