2002 Riverfront Times Music Award Winners

Your verdict is in: Check out St. Louisí favorite local musicians.

Arista Records seems happy to throw some marketing muscle behind Toya, and fans, both locally and beyond, are responding in a big way. "I Do!!" climbed well into the pop Top 10 thanks in large part to heavy MTV rotation. Constant appearances and gigging -- including a tour last year with Jessica Simpson -- added even greater national exposure. But local fans needn't fear. Toya hasn't forgotten her hometown fanbase. Like Nelly and the St. Lunatics, she seems determined to promote her St. Louis roots, and that goes a long way toward endearing Toya to her fans here. Of course, those model good looks and pop smarts probably don't hurt, either.

In an industry where trends tend to shift overnight, it's anyone's guess where Toya goes from here, but at only 19, she has the potential for a long musical career. Although success in the R&B world can sometimes be brutally short, St. Louisans have made clear their intention to support the "First Lady of St. Louis" with a resounding "I Do!!" (JK)

Dave Stone
Best Jazz

It's a three-peat! In 2000, 2001 and now in 2002, Dave Stone has come out on top in the jazz category of the RFT Music Awards. That result may not be a rarity in certain other categories (see Blues and the incredible streak of the Soulard Blues Band), but it's definitely an eye-opener when it comes to the Best Jazz category.

Charlie Chan & Just Add Water
Charlie Chan & Just Add Water
Jay Farrar & Tripstar
Jay Farrar & Tripstar

The quality of competition year after year in this category is clearly a tribute to the high level of musicianship found on the St. Louis-area jazz scene. As a result, the voting always seems to come down to the wire -- and this year was no exception. In 2002, voters had to choose from a list of deserving nominees that included sax stalwart John Norment, the up-and-coming Jeff Lash Trio and past winners Stone, sax player Willie Akins and pianist Ptah Williams.

Given the tough competition, just what is it about Stone that's inspired so many jazz fans to faithfully cast ballots for him over the past three years? Start with the word "consistency," and focus first on consistently excellent musicianship. Saxophonist Stone and his regular bass player, Eric Markowitz, have musical roots that go back more than a decade. They both studied in the fine jazz program at Webster University, where they developed solid technique and skills -- and discovered a deep rapport in exploring the post-bop music of the legendary John Coltrane.

That interest has led to a consistently exciting approach to improvisation by Stone and Markowitz. At the smaller, more rockist clubs such as Mangia and the Way Out, the musicians always seem to opt for an edgy, unpredictable approach to a performance. What's more, Stone consistently varies the sound of the group by bringing a variety of top-notch musicians into the mix. For example, the drum chair could feature Kyle Honeycutt, Jim Orso or Jeff Anderson on any given night, and you never know when someone like Syd Rodway may sit in or when a jazz musician stopping by will end up onstage for the late set.

We can only hope that the recognition gained through three straight wins in the RFT Music Awards will inspire Stone to expand his performance schedule -- and impel local club owners to find room on their schedules for his uniquely beautiful sound. (TP)

Grandpa's Ghost
Best Eclectic/Uncategorizable

Make room in the trophy case, boys: For the second year in a row, Grandpa's Ghost grabs the brass ring on the most topsy-turvy carousel in this musical carnival, "Eclectic/Uncategorizable." Lumping such disparate bands in one category handicaps them all, because the bands that take the most chances end up competing. Perversely, this competition levels the field for the contenders: The inherent weirdness of each band is canceled out and the bands must be considered on their merits, not their eccentricities. See? Uncategorizable. And yet you, the voter, are asked to categorize one of these bands as the best, and twice now you've thrown that appellation on the spectral, risky, magnetically resonant drone-roar produced by Grandpa's Ghost. Well played, anonymous mass of voters; well played indeed.

Trying to characterize Grandpa's Ghost is a clumsy business. In the past year, guitarist/vocalist Ben Hanna has collaborated with electro-acoustic sound generator Eric Hall and wild-man producer Chris Deckard; Grandpa's Ghost played for the performance-art experience Person One; and even as you were casting your ballot for them, they were touring with blue-collar icon Mike Watt. That's a wide jump from avant to performance art to econo, but Grandpa's Ghost's amorphous nature adapts to any setting.

Their double album Stardust & Smog/Early Autumn Waltz drifts and wanders through the back country, seeking out those hidden or forgotten places where beauty sleeps. Folk and country and rock and pop and soul and noise and sound manifest like shadowy figures on your peripheral vision, flickering out if you look straight at them. But close your eyes and everything sloughs together as the Ghost slips through a landscape both real and imagined, trailing ragged clouds of dusty, distorted, divine melancholy and glory in its wake. It's a journey the vast majority of voters were eager to take, which is no surprise, because the scenery is breathtaking. (PF)

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