In Memoriam: Onaje Allan Gumbs


Onaje Allan Gumbs (1949–2020)

(Photo: Facebook)

Pianist Onaje Allan Gumbs passed away April 6 at the age of 70, according to WBGO. A cause of death has not been specified.

In a career that stretched back to the 1970s, the pianist recorded with a range of players from across the jazz spectrum—James Moody, Norman Connors, Cecil McBee, Jimmy Owens and Avery Sharpe—as well as rapper Kurtis Blow in addition to leading dates on SteepleChase and HighNote.

“I was 8 years old, watching Peter Gunn and Mr. Lucky,” he told WBGO during a 2017 interview, “and I fell in love with the music I heard on these TV shows.”

In 2013 he released the album Bloodlife: Solo Piano Improvisations Based On The Melodies of Ronald Shannon Jackson (Ejano), where Gumbs displayed the range of his influences and the reach of his artistic expression.

In 2017, he released Two, The Top, a collaboration with vocalist Mem Nahadr.

Gumbs, whose career including teaching stints at The New School in New York City and at the Litchfield Jazz Camp in Connecticut, was profiled in the September 2014 issue of DownBeat. Regarding his status as an educator and role model, he told journalist Eric Harabadian, “It’s important to talk to students about why we do this. Yes, we try and pay bills, but there is a reason we do music. Our mission is to heal. Once we have the mechanics down, what does it mean for us and the listener? That’s what I’ve tried to do with the groups I work with and produce.” DB

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