Columbia musician returns to alma mater Howard-based group has big plans EAST COLUMBIA


Who says you can't go home again?

Edgar Bryant, a singer, songwriter and composer who graduated from Oakland Mills High School in 1978, has returned to his alma mater to recruit two student musicians to make recordings and a music video with him.

Mr. Bryant, who bills himself as "Edgar," has formed an 11-member musical group, which includes Oakland Mills High freshmen saxophone players Evan Yakas and Robert McGinnis and several other Columbia-area vocalists and musicians, to make a recording for Top Gold Records of Houston.

Contemporary music

The recording will include a mix of contemporary jazz, reggae and rap music, says Mr. Bryant. It will contain only one rap song, but it was that song -- "Another Death in the Street" -- that captured the record company's attention, he says. Details of the recording contract are still under negotiation, he says.

Most of the songs deal with "street issues," including problems such as murder, drugs, poverty and how government is responding to social ills, says Mr. Bryant, 32, a Columbia resident.

"We list everything we as the public see that they say they're trying to take care of, and there's nothing happening. We're blasting those issues one more time," Mr. Bryant says about "Another Death in the Street."

He says he expects negative feedback from the politically charged rap song, adding that it has a chance to be distributed nationally.

Music as a career

Mr. Bryant worked through the county's Board of Education to find the two student musicians. The students have now joined Mr. Bryant's backup group, "Walk with me, talk with me." One of the students will star in a music video about a high school boy who has a crush on a female teacher, says Kim Mallory, publicist for Midnite Cruze Productions, Mr. Bryant's production company. The group rehearses at the high school.

Robert, who has played the saxophone for five years, says, "I wanted to [play with the group] because I love to play."

Evan and Robert say the toughest part about rehearsing with the group has been learning to play music by listening to a tape, rather than reading sheet music.

Mr. Bryant says he wanted to include students in the band to encourage interest in music as a career.

"A lot of musicians I played with in school, once they graduated, their instruments sat in the closet and gathered dust," he says.

Though some of his songs may have a hard edge, Mr. Bryant describes himself as "highly religious."

"Everyone knows what time it is," says Mr. Bryant. "We feel that's where our big success is going to come from."

Mr. Bryant played at parties and Columbia community functions during junior high with the band Destiny. He played in the "hard core funk" band "AJAXXX" in high school and afterward, and recorded two albums.

Eclectic mix

Mr. Bryant's backup group includes an eclectic mix of professionals with occupations outside of music, most of whom harbor the dream of performing for a living. Several have backgrounds in gospel.

Mr. Bryant has known some members for years, such as percussionist Bruce Lee, a fellow 1978 Oakland Mills High graduate who works as a mechanical designer for an engineering company. He found others, such as vocalist Melanie Ciesluk, while searching for local talent after Top Gold offered him a contract late last year.

Helena Blondell, a flight attendant for United Airlines, sings jazz in Tokyo hotels between trips, and has sung with the Miami Philharmonic.

No false hopes

She says she and other group members don't have "false expectations" about what the band will accomplish, but adds that a "work ethic is in place" that could lead to success.

"I think we've all paid our dues, not together and not overnight, but there's a lot of mileage put in here," Ms. Blondell says.

The group is recording in studios in Columbia and Rockville. A video is planned for next month. The recording will be called "Looking for Gary," named after one of Mr. Bryant's former songwriting partners.

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