Myra Taylor — there are none higher.
It was only by last-minute luck that the 92-year-old Kansas City blues and jazz matriarch ended up at the Pitch Music Awards at all. If, several days before Sunday night's awards, we hadn't stumbled across a recent Jazz Ambassador Magazine with her manager's phone number listed in the back, we might never have gotten in touch with the mighty Taylor. (With 126 nominees on this year's ballot, representing more than 500 musicians, it was hard enough getting the people we see practically every weekend to RSVP.)
And if that had been our sorry luck, then Taylor probably would not have rolled her wheelchair up to the edge of the stage at the Uptown, grabbed a microphone and delivered the most memorable impromptu performance at any recent PMA ceremony.
It happened as Taylor accepted the award for Best Jazz Ensemble on behalf of her group, the Wild Women of Kansas City. Once installed on the floor in front of the stage, with the spotlight on her and with the evening's host, David Wayne Reed, seated beside her, Taylor said, "This is a song I wrote — it's just a little bit, not a lot."
She put her arm around Reed's shoulder and summoned up her sultry alto, a cappella: Hey, there, I like what I see/I keep sittin' here a' mopin'/Wishin and a' hopin'/For you to like me.
The crowd of 800 or so clapped to the beat as she sang the equally adorable second verse: Hey, hey, I says hey there, I like your smile/I like your purty white teeth, your green, green eyes/I like your style.
And then came the bridge: I may not be good-lookin'/I may not be built for speed/But I'm a lover, a sinner, a downtown money spender/I said, boy, what more do you need?/Hey, hey, hey.
Her ditty, combined with a pretty hilarious joke afterward (see the whole video at youtube.com/user/thepitchtv), made for a moment so classy, beautiful and authentic, my heart turned into melted frosting. Best of all, perhaps, were Taylor's parting words of advice for when you get old: "All you have to remember is, be breathing and have an income."
Taylor has lived through the Great Depression and the wars of the 20th century. She was well into her career — and her life — when Elvis went on Ed Sullivan. And she's not just still making music. She's spreading the love of it wherever she goes. She is a Kansas City treasure.
It's hard to imagine Taylor's younger peers at the ceremony persisting in music for so long. Will Stik Figa, for example, still be rapping 60, 70 years from now?
His performance at the awards show was definitely some next-level shit in terms of his own career. Like Taylor but a lot faster (and, therefore, like CES Cru at last year's ceremony), Stik began a cappella, with a rapid, tumbling whirl of verse. He then rocked it to piped-in beats for a couple of songs, summoning audience members down to the stage for the first and only time all evening.
Then, in a scene-uplifting move, Stik brought up fellow rappers Dutch Newman, Greg Enemy and the deeply talented and mysterious Ron Ron to perform his and Ron's duet number, "Caked Up."
A bit later, he returned to the stage to accept his award for Hip-Hop/Rap. Well done, Stik.
In addition to Stik Figa and Taylor, the bash-rocking Pedaljets, the quirky and experimental London Transit and the Latin-swaggering Making Movies all put on great performances.
Big congratulations to all the winners and massive thanks to the approximately 4,600 people who voted. Apparently, people do care about local music.
And the triumphant 21 are ...
The Gaslights in Folk/Americana, with their lead singer, Abigail Henderson — a Taylor spirit to the core — picking up the trophy for Best Frontwoman. Likewise, Megan Birdsall, who also has been through some tough stuff over the past year, won for Jazz Solo Artist.
Blues: Trampled Under Foot; Country/Bluegrass: the Last Call Girls; DJ: Dance: Nomathmatics; DJ:Hip-Hop: DJ Sku; Electronic/Dance: the Ssion; Hip-Hop/Rap: Stik Figa; Indie Pop: the Republic Tigers; Indie Rock: the Appleseed Cast; Jazz: Ensemble: the Wild Women of Kansas City; Jazz: Solo Artist: Megan Birdsall; Latin: Son Venezuela; Metal: Hammerlord; Pop: the Dead Girls; Punk: Fag Cop; Reggae: 77 Jefferson; Rock: the Architects; Singer-Songwriter: Sara Swenson; Live Act: the Sex Police; New Act: Audiovox.
I hope this year's award season (including our righteous August 6 Showcase in Westport) has helped remind folks that while it might not be famous, the KC-Lawrence scene is never lacking in terms of talent and diversity.
It just wants to be liked.