Maria Schneider: If you know jazz or want to know more about jazz, you should know avant-garde, post-bop composer, arranger, and bandleader Maria Schneider. This chick cooks -- and we're not talking food. A prodigy from Windom, Minnesota, she began studying piano at age five. After earning a master's from the Eastman School of Music, she moved to New York and worked as an assistant to pianist-composer-arranger Gil Evans from 1985 to 1988. Since then Schneider has composed pieces for the Woody Herman and Mel Lewis bands, worked alongside harmonica player Toots Thielemans, conducted orchestras all over Europe and the United States, and released two albums, both nominated for Grammys. Tonight at 8:00 Schneider comes to Gusman Concert Hall (1314 Miller Dr., Coral Gables) at the University of Miami (where she studied for a short time) to lead the University of Miami Concert Jazz Band. Admission is free. Call 284-5813. (NK)
Feast with the Beasts: Munch with the monkeys, indulge with the invertebrates, repast with the ruminants, all to benefit the Zoological Society of Florida. This black-tie event attracts more than 1500 people who will trek to Metrozoo (12400 SW 152nd St.) tonight at 8:00 and participate in an extravagant gorge-fest featuring food from more than 40 top South Florida restaurants -- Chef Allen's, China Grill, Christy's, to name a few. Trumpeter Arturo Sandoval headlines the multitudinous musical acts, which include Joe Donato, the Goods, Orpheus, and the Vivace Strings. Dancers and magicians will also entertain. Tickets cost $150; $500 will buy you the title of Beastkeeper and will get you into a special reception at 7:00 p.m. Call 255-5551. (NK)
Miami International Orchid Show: Rambo loves orchids. Who knew the tough guy had a soft spot for flowers? Sylvester Stallone has been named honorary chairman of this year's Miami International Orchid Show, even though his daughter Sophia Rose is named after a different bloom. (The people at the South Florida Orchid Society are savvy; they plan to name a special orchid after Sophia.) Today and tomorrow from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Coconut Grove Convention Center (2700 S. Bayshore Dr., Coconut Grove) more than 200 vendors will display and sell thousands of exotic flowers at the largest orchid event in the Americas. Horticulturists will conduct walking tours of the show and give demonstrations and lectures about growing orchids. Admission is nine dollars. Call 255-3656. (NK)
Winter Party Weekend: The Dade Human Rights Foundation, devoted to promoting awareness about gay, lesbian, and transgender issues, throws its annual Winter Party (or parties) today through Sunday on Miami Beach. Winter be damned; the theme is "Tropical Fantasy." Festivities begin tonight at 9:30 with the Tropical Heat dance party at the Warsaw Ballroom (1450 Collins Ave.), continue tomorrow at 7:00 p.m. with the Tropical Deco VIP cocktail party at the Raleigh Hotel (1175 Collins Ave.), and culminate Sunday at noon in an all-afternoon beach dance party (Ocean Drive and Fourteenth Street). Tickets range from $30 to $75. Call 538-2712. (NK)
Doral-Ryder Open: See Thursday.
Winter Music Conference: Dance music is alive and well and living in Miami Beach, at least for the next five days, as the Winter Music Conference rolls on. More than 2500 delegates from all over the world will convene at the Fontainebleau Hilton and Resort Towers (4441 Collins Ave., Miami Beach) to participate in a series of events such as panel discussions, seminars, and the International Dance Music Awards. A DJ spinoff, new-artist showcases, and a slew of performances will also take place at various South Beach nightclubs (see "Clubs," page 92). Registration costs $325. Ticket prices for the nightclub shows vary according to venue. Call 954-563-4444. (NK)
The Raft: Anyone who thinks Miami is becoming homogeneous is in for a surprise with this film. Emanuel Boeck is a writer-director from Germany who came to Miami to make a movie about Cuban rafters. He chose five of Venezuela's top actors as his cast. The dialogue is in English. Got that? Inspired by Alfred Hitchcock's The Lifeboat, Boeck's The Raft (La Balsa) tells the tale of four Cubans who flee their country on (you guessed it) a raft. Everything is going along swimmingly for them until they rescue a drowning man (from another raft, we presume). The ingrate proceeds to menace them, making them regret ever having left Cuba because now they really have no escape. The film premieres tonight and tomorrow at 8:30 at the Colony Theater (1040 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach). Tickets cost ten dollars. Call 232-6636. (NK)
Asian Arts Festival: Bored with the same old arts festivals? Well, this one's different. Today and tomorrow from 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. the Fruit and Spice Park (24801 SW 187th Ave., Homestead) hosts this celebration of Asian culture. Stroll around the great outdoors and enjoy martial arts demonstrations, folk music, performances by dancers, traditional cuisine, arts and crafts, and of course, plants and fruit. Admission is five dollars. Call 247-5727. (NK)