Pianist/keyboardist/producer/arranger/songwriter Onaje Allan Gumbs (pronounced Oh-Nah-Jay) is one of the music industry's most respected and talented music collaborators. Gumbs has worked almost three decades with top talent in the musical fields of jazz, R&B/soul, and pop to hone his considerable skills. A partial list includes Woody Shaw, Nat Adderly, Norman Connors, Angela Bofill, Jean Carn, Cassandra Wilson, Marlena Shaw, Sadao Watanabe, Phyllis Hyman ("The Answer Is You" from his 1979 Somewhere in My Lifetime album), Stanley Jordan, Denise Williams, Vanessa Rubin, Jeffrey Osborne, Eddie Murphy, Rebbie Jackson, and Gerald Albright (Live at Birdland West).
On Will Downing's 1991 album A Dream Fulfilled, he contributed heavily to four tracks that received massive airplay: "For All We Know," "Something's Going On," a cover of Paul Davis' "I Go Crazy," and "No Love Intended." The Harlem-Queens native was encouraged by his parents to join the church choir when he was a child; later, he started taking piano lessons. His taste for jazz was cultivated by the jazz-based background music scored by Henry Mancini for the '60s TV series Peter Gunn. Gumbs studied music in school and college, taking some courses at the Manhattan School of Art.
With the majority of his music-theory studies being classical-based, Gumbs actually picked up playing jazz by listening to Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and others. Not aiming to be a musical purist, Gumbs continued to listen to other forms of music. His appreciation of various musical genres made him a much in-demand session player, arranger, and producer and has led him to be an on-the-go sideman for some top acts.
In 1974, Gumbs enjoyed one of the highlights of his arranging career when he created a special arrangement of "Stella By Starlight" for the New York Jazz Repertory Company as a part of a concert honoring Miles Davis at Carnegie Hall. That same year, Gumbs performed on Woody Shaw's Moon Moontrane. Later, he joined forces with trumpeter Nat Adderley and his quintet, contributing to the group's recordings on Atlantic and Steeplechase. Nils Winter of the latter label was impressed by Gumbs' solo improvisations on several of Adderley's performances and approached the young pianist that same year to record a solo piano album, Onaje. In 1985, Gumbs further heightened his visibility by contributing his arrangement of "Lady in My Life" to guitarist Stanley Jordan's enormously successful album Magic Touch. The record held the number one spot on Billboard's jazz charts for 37 weeks. The pianist recorded two albums for MCA: That Special Part of Me and 1991's Dare to Dream. ~ Ed Hogan, Rovi