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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 here), 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.
By Jason Harper in Pitch Music Awards