Onaje Allan Gumbs is a pianist, composer and bandleader.
Born Allan Bentley Gumbs in Harlem on September, 1949, Onaje grew up in St. Albans, Queens, and started playing piano at age 7. Henry Mancini was one of his earliest and greatest influences. Later, he studied at the Music and Art High School in Manhattan and was introduced to Leroy Kirkland, who had played with the Erskine Hawkins band, and who would come to mentor Onaje. He went on to study classical piano, composition, arranging and graduated with a degree in Education at the State University of New York at Fredonia.
In 1971, Leroy Kirkland introduced Onaje to the renowned Detroit guitarist Kenny Burrell. Kenny Burrell asked Onaje to play at Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit. This work led to further performances with major jazz musicians such as bassist Larry Ridley and The Thad Jones/ Mel Lewis Orchestra. During those early 70's, Onaje played in a contemporary jazz ensemble called Natural Essence. Some of the personnel of this group included drummer Buddy Williams, bassist Alex Blake, trombonist Earl McIntyre and on percussion, Thelonious Monk Jr.
In 1972, in Buffalo, New York, Onaje met Norman Connors, who hired him to act as arranger for the album Dark of Light. Onaje went on to contribute keyboard work for subsequent albums by Norman. Onaje's sideman work soon included stints with Buster Williams, Cecil McBee, and Betty Carter. Toward the late 1970s, Onaje spent two years working in Woody Shaw's band as pianist, arranger, and occasional composer. During this time, the group won the Down Beat Reader’s Poll for Best Jazz Group and for Best Jazz Album in 1978 for Rosewood. Onaje was then invited by producer Nils Winter to record a solo piano project. Entitled Onaje, the album features standards such as "Giant Steps."
In 2003, Onaje released a live album through Half Note records entitled Return to Form, recorded at the Blue Note Jazz Club in Manhattan. He then released in 2004 a critically acclaimed project through his own label, Ejano, entitled Remember Their Innocence. In 2006, Onaje recorded an album for 18th and Vine records, Sack Full of Dreams.
On January 24, 2010, Onaje suffered a stroke. Miraculously, he stayed in the hospital for only 2 days. By December of that same year, an album was released in Japan entitled Just Like Yesterday. On this CD Onaje was accompanied by Omar Hakim, Victor Bailey, Marcus McLaurine, William S. Patterson and Chuggy Carter. Any visible signs of the stroke have since vanished.