Jazz quartet's genesis was praising the Lord


Don't let the name fool you.

The Gospel Jazz Company, which will perform a free concert at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the central library, plays mostly rhythm-and-blues songs. Favorite artists include Aretha Franklin and the Temptations.

The four singers, Chauncey Harris of Severn, Angela Clay of Ellicott City, Richard Shepherd of Long Reach and Vaughn M. Bradley of Harper's Choice, met while performing in the choir at St. John Baptist Church in Columbia's Long Reach village.

Harris, who plays bass guitar for the church, has enjoyed a long professional career. He has performed with greats such as Wilson Pickett, James Brown and Sam Cooke, he said. It was Harris' idea to form the quartet.

"He had an idea about putting together an event to take to the Meyerhoff [and other places]," said Shepherd. Harris wanted an 18-piece band, as well as singers and actors to perform a Las Vegas-like show, Shepherd said.

"He looked all over the city of Baltimore for vocals, then decided, what's the point if I have everything here in church and I can just grab it," Shepherd said.

The quartet has been together more than a year - it debuted at Riverside Rostery & Espresso in Columbia - and has performed at restaurants and events throughout the area.

"When we started rehearsing, we kind of fell into jazz and R&B;," said Shepherd. The big show is still on the back burner, he said.

Harris is the only professional, but all four singers say music is in their blood.

"I sang my first solo in the choir was I was 7 years old," said Clay, a service associate for an insurance company. "When you sing gospel, you give people the joy of knowing they can be uplifted no matter what they're going through. ... When you sing R&B; and jazz, you have the joy of knowing that people are happy and feel good about what they are hearing."

Clay has appeared on the Bobby Jones Gospel show on BET TV and is working on a compact disc, she said.

"My goal is not to be a star," said Clay, the mother of three boys ages 9, 12 and 13. "I just want to spread the music."

But Clay does have star quality. She can belt out the music of Aretha Franklin to Whitney Houston, Shepherd said.

Bradley, a retired special agent with the Naval Criminal Investigative Service - NCIS - and part-time special investigator for the State Department, began singing in junior high school. He sang at school and with the church choir.

His career with the NCIS took him all over the world.

"Wherever I went, I tried to continue with the music," said Bradley, who sang with church and Navy base choirs while abroad. "It kept me grounded. Most of my singing has been related to religious experiences."

But singing in a quartet is different from singing in a choir.

"You can hide in a choir," Bradley said. "When there are only four voices, if anyone gets a part wrong, the rest of us will know. But we all cover for each other."

Shepherd always has loved singing, but he started in his first formal group at the age of 35, he said.

"I tried to get in the elementary school choir, but they turned me down," Shepherd said. The rejection spurred him to keep trying. He started singing karaoke and singing with his friends.

"I sang in college with my fraternity, and we won a national competition - Songfest," he said.

"One of the guys at an alumni meeting asked if I could sing, and he said I should listen to them," he said.

It turned out "them" was the North Jersey Philharmonic Glee Club, an organization that performs at the White House and the National Cathedral in Washington. Not only was Shepherd accepted, but he often sings lead vocal.

"When someone tells me I can't do something, it motivates me to show them I can," said Shepherd, who owns Shepherd Business Services Inc., a sales and business management consulting firm.

Shepherd has been singing in the St. John Baptist Church choir about 10 years. He is president of the male chorus.

"I always wanted to be in a group that performs on stage," Shepherd said. "When this opportunity [Gospel Jazz Company] came up, I was ready for it. I hope we can keep it going."

The Gospel Jazz Company will perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the central library, outside, weather permitting; otherwise, in the meeting room. Information: 410-313-7800.

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