Born: September 3, 1949 Primary Instrument: Piano
Onaje Allan Gumbs is one of the industry’s most respected and talented musical collaborators. He has worked for more than 30 years with an illustrious list of jazz, R&B and pop artists. In 1974, he created a special arrangement of Stella By Starlight for the New York Jazz Repertory Company as part of a concert honoring Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall. He followed that with live and recorded performances with such artists as Lenny White, Buster Williams, Cecil McBee and Betty Carter. In 1975,Onaje joined forces with trumpeter, Nat Adderley as part of his quintet contributing to the group’s releases on Atlantic and Steeplechase Records. Producer Nils Winter of Steeplechase upon hearing Onaje’s improvisations, invited the young pianist to record a solo piano project entitled Onaje.
In 1976, Onaje provided the arrangement for the song that was to become the signature piece for the late great vocalist Phyllis Hyman, Betcha By Golly Wow. In 1978, the Woody Shaw Group, for which Onaje was pianist, won the Down Beat Reader’s Poll for Best Jazz Group and for Best Jazz Album (Rosewood).The album was later nominated for a Grammy. In 1985, Onaje lent his keyboard and arrangement skills to Lady In My Life on guitarist Stanley Jordan’s widely acclaimed debut album, Magic Touch on Blue Note Records.This was the 1st jazz album in history to maintain the #1 spot atop Billboard Magazine’s jazz charts for more than 50 weeks.
In 1986, Onaje received the “Min-on Art Award...in recognition of his great contribution to the promotion and development of a new musical movement for people with the aim of the creation of Peace...” Previous recipients of this prestigious honor include Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter,and Buster Williams. Motivated by the goal for World Peace,Onaje uses the practice of Nicherin Daishonin’s Buddhism as a philosophical,spiritual and technical approach to his life and his music. His composition, Quiet Passion and his rendition of the Delphonics classic, (Didn’t I ) Blow your Mind This Time both from his project, That Special Part Of Me have remained in rotation on the playlists of Smooth Jazz Radio Stations around the country since their initial introduction back in February of 1988. Panasonic chose his song, Dare To Dream, with lyrics by Charles Allen, as the theme for their 10th anniversary celebration honoring their project; Kid Witness News.
In addition to the release of That Special Part Of Me and Dare To Dream on MCA Records, he currently has an independently financed solo project; Remember Their Innocence. Onaje has been featured twice on NPR Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland. He also composed,arranged and performed the original score for the Showtime film, Override, directed by actor/producer Danny Glover. In 1997, Onaje again embraced the music of Miles Davis as conductor/arranger for Grammy Award winning vocalist Cassandra Wilson’s concert, Travelin' Miles.
Onaje Allan Gumbs continues to contribute his talents as a keyboardist,composer, arranger and producer. As he states: “Music has a healing force that is immeasurable and I am committed to being a part of it .”