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Keyboardist Onaje Allan Gumbs passed away on April 6, 2020, at age 70. JAZZIZ Publisher Michael Fagien offers this remembrance.
Though not a household name, Onaje Allan Gumbs was well-known in musician and aficionado circles, as he's worked with a who’s who of jazz legends (Kenny Burrell, Jimmy Owens, Frank Foster, Woody Shaw, Betty Carter, James Moody and Nat Adderley, to name a few), brilliant eclectic jazzers (Bill Laswell, Ronald Shannon Jackson, Avery Sharpe and Terumasa Hino) and became better known for his R&B and smooth jazz works (Phyllis Hyman, Kurtis Blow, Norman Connors, and for the arrangement he wrote for Stanley Jordan's version of the Michael Jackson hit "The Lady of My Life"). Gumbs died last month due to complications of COVID-19. In memoriam, I wanted to share this song and the brief encounters I was fortunate to have with this lesser-known artist who gave us so much.
In the '80s I was introduced to his music, and while licensing tracks for an upcoming JAZZIZ CD, Gumbs recorded -- and MCA Jazz released -- That Special Part of Me. It was a cool mix where you could hear his roots in more traditional jazz while clearly moving in a direction of more contemporary R&B. I immediately fell in love with the track "First Time We Met", an unplugged, soft, almost samba-like tune. I wanted to put it on the JAZZIZ disc but found myself arguing with the President and A&R folks at MCA, who wanted to go with another track which they believed was the “hit” on the record. I refused the ones they wanted to use for JAZZIZ and moved on, but took the opportunity to reach out to Onaje and tell him how much I enjoyed his work, a practice I would repeat with the keyboardist over the years.
We'll miss you Onaje, but your music lives on here and around the world.