Onaje Allan Gumbs

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Onaje Allan Gumbs
Birth nameAllan Bentley Gumbs
Born(1949-09-03)September 3, 1949
New York City, US
DiedApril 6, 2020(2020-04-06) (aged 70)
Yonkers, New York, US
GenresBebop, hard bop, soul jazz, smooth jazz, fusion
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, arranger, bandleader, lyricist
Years active1970s–2020
Labels18th and Vine, Ejano

Onaje Allan Gumbs (born Allan Bentley Gumbs, September 3, 1949 – April 6, 2020)[1] was a New York–based pianist, composer, and bandleader.[2][3]

Early life and career[edit]

Gumbs was born in Harlem, a neighborhood in New York City, to parents who had immigrated to the United States from the Caribbean. Gumbs' mother was from Montserrat, while his father, a New York City police officer, was from Anguilla. He was the nephew of Hubert Harrison's daughter-in-law.[4] As a child, Gumbs was fascinated by the film and television music of Henry Mancini. Gumbs graduated from the State University of New York at Fredonia, and during his years there was a member of a student-organized jazz ensemble.[5]

In 1971, Leroy Kirkland introduced Gumbs to the Detroit guitarist Kenny Burrell, to whom Onaje gave a demo tape. The following day, Gumbs received a call to play with Burrell at Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit. This work led to further performances with major jazz musicians such as bassist Larry Ridley as well as The Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Orchestra. During the early 1970s, Gumbs replaced Nat Adderley, Jr. in a contemporary jazz ensemble called Natural Essence, which included during these years Buddy Williams and T. S. Monk (drums and percussion), bassist Alex Blake, and trombonist Earl McIntyre.

Gumbs adopted the name Onaje in the early 1970s; it means "the sensitive one".[6] He met his future wife, Sandra Wright, in 1971 during a short teaching engagement he took in Buffalo, New York. The two wed later in the decade and remained married until Gumbs' death in 2020.[5]

In the late 1970s, Gumbs recorded with Woody Shaw and worked as musical director for R&B singer Phyllis Hyman, Angela Bofill and Jeffrey Osborne.[7][8] Later in his career he worked extensively with Ronald Shannon Jackson, and in 2013, following Jackson's death, Gumbs recorded a solo piano album consisting of improvisations on Jackson's compositions. Later in his life, he taught at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in Manhattan and the Litchfield Jazz Camp in Connecticut.[5] DownBeat stated that his "association with the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York and his work with the Litchfield Jazz Camp in New Milford, Conn., allowed him to expand his vision and shape young minds."[6]

Later life[edit]

On January 24, 2010, Gumbs suffered a stroke and was hospitalized for two days. In December of that year, he released an album in Japan entitled Just Like Yesterday. On the album, he was accompanied by Omar Hakim, Victor Bailey, Marcus McLaurine, William S. Patterson and Chuggy Carter. Any visible signs of the stroke had since vanished.

In February 2015, he was hospitalized for two weeks, though he was able to recover and return to composing and performance.

Onaje Allan Gumbs died on April 6, 2020, aged 70.[5][1]


In 2022, De Kruif Place in the Bronx was co-named Onaje Allan Gumbs Way.[9][10]


As leader[edit]

Year recorded Title Label Personnel/Notes
1976 Onaje SteepleChase Solo piano[11]
1980s Bloodlife: Solo Piano Improvisations Based on the Melodies of Ronald Shannon Jackson Ejano Music Solo piano; released around 2014[6]
1988 That Special Part of Me Zebra Records / MCA Records
1989? Dare to Dream Zebra With Roger Byam (tenor sax), Jef Lee Johnson and Kevin Eubanks (guitar), Oscar Carataya (bass), Buddy Williams (drums), Steve Thornton (percussion), Gerri Griffin and Dennis Collins (vocals)[12]
2000 Return to Form Half Note With Rene McLean (alto sax), Marcus McLaurine (bass), Payton Croslley (drums), Gary Fritz (percussion)
2004 Remember Their Innocence Ejano Music With Sadao Watanabe (alto sax)
2006 Sack Full of Dreams 18th & Vine With Mark Shim (tenor sax), Bob DeVos (guitar), Marcus McLaurine (bass), George Gray (drums), Gary Fritz (percussion), Obba Babatunde (vocals)
2010? Just Like Yesterday Pony Canyon

Main source:[13]

As sideman[edit]

With Nat Adderley

With T. K. Blue

  • Follow the North Star (JaJa, 2008)

With Betty Carter

With Norman Connors

With Carlos Garnett

With Toninho Horta

With Ronald Shannon Jackson

With Bennie Maupin

With Cecil McBee

With Mark Mosley

  • TLC (Mark Mosley, 2012)

With Avery Sharpe

  • Running Man (JKNM, 2011)
  • Sojourner Truth: Ain't I a Woman (JKNM, 2013)

With Woody Shaw

With John Stubblefield

With Charles Sullivan

With Lenny White


  1. ^ a b "In Memoriam: Onaje Allan Gumbs", DownBeat, April 8, 2020. Retrieved April 10, 2020.
  2. ^ Deluke, R. J. (March 20, 2007), "Onaje Allan Gumbs: Music Heard, And Felt", All About Jazz.
  3. ^ Hogan, Ed, "Onaje Allan Gumbs", AllMusic.
  4. ^ Perry, Jeffery B. (February 2014). "Hubert Harrison: The Voice of Harlem Radicalism, 1883-1918". jefferybperry.net. Retrieved February 4, 2023.
  5. ^ a b c d Russonello, Giovanni (April 13, 2020). "Onaje Allan Gumbs, Ecumenical Pianist, Is Dead at 70". The New York Times. Retrieved April 13, 2020.
  6. ^ a b c Harabadian, Eric (September 2014). "Grace and Sensitivity". DownBeat. p. 54.
  7. ^ Scott, Ron (2016-01-15). "Onaje Gumbs, Cassandra's, Winter Marathon Jazzfest". New York Amsterdam News. Retrieved 2022-07-12.
  8. ^ "Return To Form : Onaje Allan Gumbs : CD Reviews : One Final Note". www.onefinalnote.com. Retrieved 2022-07-12.
  9. ^ "Street Co-Named for Bronx Jazz Great Onaje Allan Gumbs". Downbeat. Retrieved September 28, 2023.
  10. ^ "Jazz Great and Buddhist Memorialized". World Tribune. Retrieved September 28, 2023.
  11. ^ Dryden, Ken. Onaje – Review at AllMusic. Retrieved November 21, 2016.
  12. ^ Hogan, Ed. "Onaje Allan Gumbs: Dare to Dream". AllMusic. Retrieved November 27, 2018.
  13. ^ Cook, Richard; Morton, Brian (2008). The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings (9th ed.). Penguin. p. 617. ISBN 978-0-141-03401-0.

External links[edit]