Trumpeter Buddy Anderson was born Bernard Hartwell Anderson and was tenderly known as Step-Buddy Anderson during his professional career, most of which was spent on the fringes of the west in Kansas City and Oklahoma City. Anderson was in the thick of things as the Kansas City jazz style helped give birth to bebop. He sat in the trumpet section of the great Jay McShann band, immensely enjoying what young protégé Charlie Parker was up to on alto saxophone. It was McShann who helped give Parker a hand up in the early days of career. When the band went to New York City on tour, Anderson made a point of introducing Parker to Dizzy Gillespie, and the rest is bebop history. In the early '90s, president Todd Wilkinson of the Kansas City Jazz Association began to regard Anderson as symbolic of the many older, historic players in that city who were unfortunately struggling just to survive. At that point, Anderson was playing on street corners for handouts, a typical example of a great Kansas City player who had traveled the world, made records, and come home basically penniless. The situation galvanized the KCJA into promoting a series of concerts benefitting older musicians, and the first of these events pipelined some badly needed moolah into Anderson's pockets. He was 67 years old at the time of this 1992 benefit gig, and had been playing trumpet professionally since he was 15.
As a youth, he had started with violin at seven and began trumpet in a junior high school military band, right around the time he got charged up by the sounds of a different kind of musical group: the territory bands. He literally followed their riffs -- or perhaps it was the scent of the traveling musicians' dirty socks -- to Kansas City, a musical crossroads. By the late '30s, Anderson had hooked up with McShann, one of the best gigs in town. While some of McShann's compatriots were not enthusiastic about Parker and what he represented, Anderson went out of his way to cultivate his relationship with the younger players. For his efforts, the trumpeter wound up with credits for playing in some of the first recognized bands in this style. Parker also effectively created a sizeable discography for Anderson, a pile of sides that would be easy to trip over. The early recordings of Parker and the McShann band, what there are of them, have been reissued in more than a dozen different different formats and configurations.
In the early '40s, Anderson was based in New York City and worked with the groups of Benny Carter, Sabby Lewis, Roy Eldridge, and Billy Eckstine. In St. Louis for a gig with the latter vocalist, Anderson began to suffer from what was diagnosed as tuberculosis and had to sit out the shows. His replacement was Miles Davis, still a greenhorn. The advancing disease wrecked Anderson's career as a trumpet player, but he switched to piano and headed home. Through the early '80s he was based in Oklahoma City, where he gigged as well as served as president of the local musicians' union. His final years were spent in Kansas City, writing poetry and plays as well as music and playing wherever he could, including jam sessions organized by Mutual Musicians Foundation.