BEST PIANO MAN Mike Orta He's toured and recorded with Arturo Sandoval and alternated tracks with jazz legend Chick Corea. He's played with Paquito D'Rivera and in Dizzy Gillespie's United Nations Orchestra. And his day gig is director of jazz studies at Florida International University. But most nights you can find him tickling the keys at the Van Dyke Café. Mike Orta is the solid backbone for any performer or ensemble who hits the stage, whether local chanteuse Rose Max or touring titan Toots Thielemans. But when it's Orta's time to turn a solo, the notes fly from his fingers in breathtaking order, a transcendent bop of ivory that leaves admirers agape, headliners upstaged, and bandleaders shaking their heads. Orta's amazingly creative improvisations and virtuosic technique have made for many memorable moments in Miami jazz.

BEST LATIN MUSIC PROGRAM Fusión Latina Weeknights from 8:00 to 10:00 p.m.

WDNA-FM (88.9) Distracted by beautifully moving bodies at dance clubs, many people easily forget that a great deal of today's popular Latin music has roots firmly planted in the jazz tradition. Thanks to a clever mix of old and new, Fusión Latina primes even the untrained ear to make the essential connection between today's pop salsa acts and the days when jazz artistry infiltrated the folksy music that originated in the Caribbean. For two hours (8:00 to 10:00) every weeknight, various hosts present some of the hippest and coolest sides of Afro-Cuban, Puerto Rican, and other variations on a Latin jazz theme.

BEST LOCAL SOLO MUSICIAN Scott Nixon It takes a lot of balls to get up onstage all by your lonesome, especially when in your past life as the lead singer of a band you were known for being a reluctant frontman. Such is the case for the erstwhile vocalist/bassist for Ed Matus' Struggle and Disconnect, Scott Nixon, who comes out of his shell a few times each year to share his incredible voice and songs in a vein similar to country alt-rockers Whiskeytown (of Ryan Adams fame) and San Francisco's Red House Painters. Although Nixon has said he has never considered himself a singer, his emotional delivery always seems to hit home with his audiences, which is why catching him solo is both a welcome Ed Matus' Struggle flashback and a comforting reminder that there is life after the breakup.

BEST LOCAL BAND NAME OF ALL TIME Adam Walsh and the McArthur Kids Amber Alert. It has been some time since anyone heard of these unscrupulous punk rockers with the audacity to capitalize on missing and murdered children. The Kendall thrashers had a short run ripping up local venues before they vanished. Only bassist and walking Molotov cocktail Paul Williams remains on the scene -- wearing a yellow ribbon in memory of these cold, heartless bastards.

BEST LOCAL LATIN SINGER Aymee Nuviola This fair city has a well-deserved reputation for welcoming émigrés with open arms and launching them into the world brighter and bigger than ever. Aymee Nuviola, who left Cuba and arrived here via Costa Rica last year, seems destined to follow that path, if the dozens of fans who attend her weekend sessions (Thursdays through Saturdays) at the Doral café Havana Dreams are any indication. Her smooth, sensuous voice drives rhythms that range from traditional to timba, and her powerful marathon performances make her a must-see for Latin enthusiasts. Everyone is advised to check her out, if only to hear the woman who popularized the standard "Que Manera de Quererte."

BEST LOCAL BAND NAME Buddha Gonzalez and the Headless Chiwawas If you don't get it, you need to spark up some buddha and listen to Buddha and his funky gang as you let the THC soak in.

BEST LOCAL PERCUSSIONIST Kala "I play by feeling. I have to feel the vibe," says Kala (one name, like Sting), the percussionist and keyboardist for electro-rock foursome 10 Sheen. The 31-year-old Hialeah native has no real half-beat/quarter-beat training; he taught himself after a childhood of listening to his dad, a veteran Latin percussionist. The night the former drummer decided to lose the sticks, however, he wasn't watching the house act at Tropigala but rather a rock band -- a rock band with a conga player. It blew him away and he's been handing it up since. In addition to his 10 Sheen gig, he pounds at recording sessions for jazz, Haitian, and, yes, Latin acts. Don't give him a bunch of sheet music though. This drummer goes with his gut.


Secret Service

As much as we hear about Miami's lack of a music scene, there are bands worth coming home smelling like an ashtray and risking that train-ran-over-my-head feeling the morning after. Secret Service, three guys doing punk-meets-pop with high energy and a decibel level to match, took shape in 1998. They had a great blend of heavy and pop hooks and stood out from the let's-rehash-New-Wave gang. Their 2003 EP, This Landmark Will Distort, received solid reviews, as did their live performances at the usual Miami bar-band haunts. Unfortunately, suffering from continual drummer havoc, the band could no longer keep the beat.


Finesse and Runway

BEST LOCAL ELECTRONICA RELEASE OF THE PAST TWELVE MONTHS Finesse and Runway Finesse and Runway Melba "Finesse" Payes and Dino "Runway" Felipe's debut album is a product of a life spent in this city, from Finesse's sassy vocoder vocals to Runway's electronic palette. The duo brings forth its sounds by drawing from freestyle, electro, and IDM pop sounds. One song, "New Materials," approximates Jellybean Benitez-era Madonna, while the ass-shaking jam "Redwood" hisses out precocious booty bass. The duo's performances are so freewheeling and exciting that one can't help but be drawn in; it sounds like a roller-rink disco, all teen steam and boulevard dreams.

BEST LOCAL MUSICIAN TO LEAVE TOWN Lee Williams Sleek funkateer, former New Times columnist, and inveterate letter-writer Lee Williams has moved to New York City to ply his jazz-inflected rap stylings in a town he deems more hospitable to his musical talents. And given Miami's strict hip-hop division into either Pitbull-style shouters and club-shakers or mind-numbingly obtuse "indie" MCs, Williams's presence on the microphone -- erudite yet playful, and always dripping with laid-back sex appeal -- will continue to be sorely missed.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®