Onaje Allan Gumbs
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Onaje Allan Gumbs

New York City, New York, United States | SELF

New York City, New York, United States | SELF
Band Jazz Acoustic


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"Onaje Allan Gumbs, "Sack Full of Dreams""

Pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs' "Sack Full of Dreams" wasn't intended to please listeners who aren't necessarily jazz fans. But the 10-track CD often comes across that way just the same, buoyed by soulful, instantly accessible arrangements of "Cantaloupe Island," "Up Jumped Spring" and that Mayberry perennial "The Fishin' Pond," which is set to a swift but still whistle-inducing pulse. The album's title track, warmly sung by Obba Babatunde, isn't exactly charm deficient, either.

Without making tiresome concessions to smooth-jazz tastes, Gumbs, a veteran keyboardist with an illustrious resume (stints with Woody Shaw, Nat Adderley and Betty Carter, among many others), sustains several inviting moods here. The bright lyricism he displays at the keyboard on the jazz samba "Destiny" and other tracks ranks high on the list of the album's allures. In fact, it's right up there with Gumbs' brand of effortless, small-combo swing (check out his flowing solo on the self-penned "Nitelife") and his frequent embrace of soul jazz grooves that brings out the best in his bandmates, including guitarist Bob DeVos and drummer George Gray. "Lament", however, mines deeper emotions. A jazz elegy written by Gumbs after the Attica prison revolt in 1971, the piece boasts a new arrangement that showcases saxophonist Mark Shim's somber and stirring tenor.
-Mike Joyce - The Washington Post

"Remember Their Innocence"

With a résumé that includes lengthy stints with singer Betty Carter, trumpeter Woody Shaw, and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson, not to mention opportunities to support a variety of R&B and pop artists, pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs’ diversity could be considered a double-edged sword. An advantage because he’s worked in so many contexts that there’s an undeniable verisimilitude to virtually any project he tackles. A disadvantage in that he runs the risk of losing his own voice amidst such a diversity of musical interests. Fortunately, when left to his own devices, he manages to retain a sense of self even as he draws from that breadth of styles.

While the focus of Remember Their Innocence is clearly in the jazz mainstream, there are hints from other sources. With its lush string pad and Lenny Argese’s classical guitar, the title track might have something of a smooth jazz vibe, but there’s an organic sense that keeps it from falling into that style’s more programmatic nature. Similarly “All I Hear(Quiet Passion)” has an easygoing ambience and catchy bass figure—a hip-hop feel but somehow lighter—over which Sharrif Simmons’ recitation is appropriately called spoken word instead of rap.

There are hints of Brazil on “Sol Brilho” and the slow bossa of “Virgo Rising,” both featuring a tasteful and melodic Gregoire Maret, currently a member of the Pat Metheny Group and a harmonica player who seems to be showing up everywhere these days.

But for all the guests on the album—and there are many, including drummer Billy Kilson, saxophonists Roger Byam and Sadao Watanabe, and bassist Kenny Davis—and as much as the album is more about the music and less about instrumental showboating, Gumbs still comes through as the primary voice, with a selfless approach that is always in service of the song. Even on the solo piece “Playtime,” where Gumbs demonstrates his roots in Art Tatum and Erroll Garner with a taste of Monk’s obliqueness, there’s no grandstanding, only interpretation.

“Innerchange,” with its trumpet/tenor front line and George Gray’s vibrantly swinging drumming working in tandem with Kenny Davis’ walking bass line, hearkens back to vintage Art Blakey. “Healing Zone” is, at least at first, a more relaxed affair with a catchy two-chord vamp that sits in between the body of the tune, giving it an elegant tension-and-release, ultimately resolving in a characteristically powerful drum solo from Kilson. “Crystal Images” is an engaging jazz waltz with a Woody Shaw-esque trumpet solo from Eddie Allen, a name that should be more known.

Gumbs demonstrates the light touch, sensitive accompaniment, and lyrically intuitive soloing that have made him an in-demand player amongst a wealth of musicians. And yet he somehow manages to elude “household name” status. With albums as accessible and instantly appealing as Remember Their Innocence given the right amount of visibility, there’s no reason why that shouldn’t change.
-John Kelman - All About Jazz

"Return to Form"

Onaje Allan Gumbs is a highly acclaimed pianist among his fellow jazz musicians, though it is surprising that this veteran has not recorded as a leader more often. This 2000 live set taped at the Blue Note finds him in great form, accompanied by Marcus McLaurine - bassist, Payton Crossley – drummer, Gary Fritz – percussionist, and on some tracks, Rene McLean – saxophonist. Gumbs’ innovative approach to John Coltrane’s “Equinox” is marvelous; it’s set to a Latin rhythm, substituting the bass line vamp from “A Love Supreme” while also quoting several other works by Coltrane in a tense chart. His shimmering trio arrangements of “Daydream” (a gorgeous ballad by Billy Strayhorn and Duke Ellington) and Henry Mancini’s “Dreamsville” are also not to be missed. But Gumbs makes his case as a composer. “First Time We Met” is a post-bop chart full of sudden twists. The lyrical quality of “Palace of the Seven Jewels” comes through even though it’s an instrumental. Rene McLean’s tenor sax comes on strong over Gumbs’ funky piano in “Left Side of Right” while the jaunty “A Breath of Fresh Air” suggests a brisk stroll in the park on a sunny spring afternoon. The intimate sound of this highly recommended CD gives one the feeling of having a front row center table at the club.
-Ken Dryden - All Music Guide


Onaje (Steeplechase)
That Special Part of Me (Zebra Records)
Dare to Dream (Zebra Records)
Return to Form (Half Note Records)
Remember Their Innocence (Ejano Records)
Sack Full of Dreams (18th and Vine Records)
Just Like Yesterday ( Pony Canyon Records)



Onaje Allan Gumbs is one of the industry’s most respected and talented musical collaborators. He has worked for more than 40 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 performances on albums by such artists as Woody Shaw, Buster Williams ,Cecil McBee, and Betty Carter. In 1975, Onaje joined forces with trumpeter Nat Adderley and his quintet, contributing to the group’s releases on Atlantic and Steeplechase Records.

Nils Winter of Steeplechase, upon hearing Onaje’s solo improvisations, invited the young pianist to record a solo piano album entitled Onaje(1976). In 1978, the Woody Shaw Group, which Onaje contributed as pianist and as one of the composers, won the Down Beat Reader’s Poll for Jazz Group and for best jazz album, Rosewood. The album was later nominated for a Grammy. In 1985, Onaje lent his keyboard work and arrangement to "Lady in My Life" on guitarist Stanley Jordan’s enormously successful 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 47 weeks.

In 1986 Onaje received the “Min-on Art Award” from the Soka Gakki International"....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. He received yet another award from the SGI while in Tokyo in 2005 along with Wayne Shorter, Buster Williams, Nestor Torres, Larry Coryell, Shunzo Ono and other professional members of the Arts Division of SGI.

Motivated by his goal for World Peace, he uses the practice of Nicherin Daishonin’s Buddhism as a philosophical, spiritual and technical approach to all of his projects. In addition to to the release of That Special Part of Me(1988), Dare to Dream(1991) and Return To Form(2003), he has an independently financed solo project for the 21st century, Remember Their Innocence(2005). Onaje has been featured twice on NPR Piano Jazz with Marian McPartland. He composed,arranged and performed the original score for a Showtime film directed by actor/producer, Danny Glover entitled “Override”(1994) and in 1997, he was conductor and arranger for vocalist Cassandra Wilson’s concert Travelin’ Miles, a tribute to Miles Davis. While on the subject of Miles, Onaje recently enjoyed the opportunity of playing some live engagements with trumpeter Wallace Roney who has the distinction of being the only jazz trumpeter personally mentored by Miles.

In 2006, Onaje was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the Outstanding Jazz category for his independent project Remember Their Innocence.

His project, Sack Full of Dreams(2007) features singer, actor, producer, director Obba Babatunde singing the title track.

Most recent release is "Just Like Yesterday" on Pony Canyon Records