LeNard Rutledge, born and raised in Miami, where there is only a handful of truly great jazz vocalists, is usually compared, aptly, to the legendary Lou Rawls. Like Rawls, Rutledge's classy elegance is often permeated by the raw passion of his church choir work. In fact Rutledge still sings with the choir at the historic Saint Agnes Episcopal Church in Overtown. "I'm religious, but not very. I drop the F-bomb when necessary," he says. Rutledge began not as a vocalist but as a drummer, playing in the marching band at Miami Central Senior High, and later making his income during college, in North Carolina, playing at local clubs. He began his vocal career in 1997, when he was asked to join the famed Melton Mustafa Orchestra, whose bandleader, the amazing trumpet player Melton Mustafa, was a member of the Count Basie band for seven years. In 2002 Rutledge was introduced to the music director of Miami's Van Dyke Café, Don Wilner, who immediately recognized Rutledge's talent and began giving him regular spots. "Don Wilner has a reputation of being difficult," Rutledge says, "but that's just because he wants the absolute best. I feel honored to sing there, because it means I'm up to those standards." Rutledge also performs at the Ritz-Carlton South Beach and Emeril's Restaurant, and is working on his debut album, scheduled for release in June. For live performance dates, visit www.donwilner.com.
Skampida is as Skampida sounds: a stampede of positive Colombian ska that tramples right over you with energetic horns, rap solos, and pounding punky drums, all salted with traditional Colombian genres like cumbia and champeta. The nine-member band made its grand entrance into Miami last year with a bang of good vibes that quickly led to nightly collaborations with other bands on the Latin funk scene, including Locos Por Juana and Suenalo Sound System. In fact Skampida's openness and camaraderie is exactly what gives the group its unique sound. Back in Colombia, the bandmates collaborated with street musicians on the margins of society, often participating in festivals to help the poor. When they arrived as broke immigrants in Miami, that same commitment to the public paid off here. Skampida went from being a virtual stranger to an overnight success by continually passing the mike off to colleagues and fans as the band members improvised the music in the background. "The universe works for them because they work for the universe," commented Lizzie Easton, promoter of the Latin Funk Festival.
What was it like to work with Miles Davis? "Working with Miles was outrageous, eccentric, and wonderful. He taught me how to play more by playing less. He also taught me to be myself and not a bullshit artist," says Sammy Figueroa, the percussionist whose 2005 debut album, And Sammy Walked In, was nominated for a Grammy. Figueroa was born in the Bronx and began drumming when he was a young boy after seeing a local drummer perform live. "I forgot who it was, but I caught the bug. I started imitating him," he says, "and my mother got tired of me constantly banging on tables, so she bought me some drums." His professional career began years later when he was eighteen, when he was invited to play percussion for bassist Bobby Valentin's band. Figueroa quickly earned a solid reputation and subsequently has worked with some of the biggest names in music, including Chet Baker, David Bowie, Marc Anthony, Mariah Carey, and Celine Dion, as well as Miles Davis, with whom he toured for eight years all over the world. You can hear Figueroa's work on an assortment of pop hits, including Chic's "We are Family" and the Luther Vandross hit "The Night I Fell in Love." Throughout his career, Sammy has been a sideman to the greats, until he came to Miami, where he was embraced by the Van Dyke Café-centered jazz community and became the frontman of his own band, Sammy Figueroa and His Latin Explosion. Upstairs at the Van Dyke (846 Lincoln Rd., Miami Beach) is where the Latin Explosion can often be found, and check out www.donwilner.com for more info about Sammy and his congas.
The Waterford Landing is a group of four extremely creative musicians -- Alex Caso (synths, vocals), Ed Matus (electric guitars, synth, drum programming, vocals), Richard Rippe (synths, electric Fender bass, vocals), and Neil Rippe (drum set) -- who, with the release of their self-titled debut album (which you can buy for $12 at www.appliedchaotics.com) and constant live performances (see myspace.com/thewaterfordlanding for dates and locations), have amassed a solid local following. In fact this is their fourth Best Of award. The Waterford Landing is a pop band in the best sense, capturing the catchy yet personal, thoughtful spirit of Dark Wave/New Wave greats like Magnetic Fields, New Order, Cocteau Twins, and Joy Division, all of which Caso lists as influences. "Skylark," the second song on their album, is a perfect mix of warm synths, catchy melody, danceable drums, and heartbreaking lyrics. The Waterford Landing is very much an electronic band, but that doesn't mean you'll find the band members behind laptops at live performances; instead they'll be turning up the distortion on their guitars (Matus might be handing someone in the crowd his axe) and letting the "wall of sound," as Caso calls it, blast through the speakers.
Tango music is meant to be seen and heard. The tango fest, an annual nine-day extravaganza, features the best in tango music from Buenos Aires. This year the festival will grace the Deauville Hotel, and the Orquesta Gente de Tango will play live sets every night. The bandmates promise such a vast repertoire that they won't repeat a set even once over the duration of the festival. In their off-time, the Gente de Tango members will give clinics to aspiring musicians. But that's just one element of the music: Not only will you get to hear incredible, authentic milongas, but also you can watch tango greats such as Eduardo and Gloria Arquimbau (of Tango Argentino and Forever Tango fame), Fabian Salas and Carolina del Rivero, Osvaldo Zotto and Lorena Ermocida, and other legendary couples perform flinty boleos, graceful ochos, and romantic tango waltzes. Single women who wish to dance get an extra boost: This year there will be ten "Taxi Dancers," those sexy Argentine tangueros who will switch partners to keep everyone's feet busy. If you can't make this year's festival (May 26 to June 3), check out the music and dancing at founder Lydia Henson's Tango Fantasy Milonga at the American/Czechoslovak Cultural Club (13325 Arch Creek Road, North Miami) from 10:00 p.m. to 2:00 a.m. every Saturday.
We can all learn a lot from Trick Daddy. What are dub deuces? How does one get low to the floor? And how does one get that cream? If we pay attention, we could end up like Trick: with six cars, including a green monster truck in front of our mansion. Trick, who put Miami on the mainstream rap map with his four gold albums, is all over MTV and the radio, dominating the charts with songs like "Sugar (Gimme Some)" and the Ozzy Osbourne-sampled "Let's Go" from his latest album, his sixth, Thug Matrimony, which is headed for platinum status with 804,000 units sold. There is also word of an MTV series called Cookin' with Trick Daddy, in which he will make anything except chitlins because they, as he says, "smell like ass." The real reason Trick deserves this award is that, along with his devotion to children, his work is not cliché. Trick's authenticity strikes a chord, which is why he has spawned so many "Dirty South" copycats. He's creative and versatile, able to make a booty song, but also politically thoughtful (listen to the single "Amerika"). Trick is definitely a savvy businessman, turning Slip-N-Slide Records into a blue chip from scratch, but he's not selling empty boxes. His production is always catchy and interesting, and his lyrics are consistently creative and truthful.
Three young MCs -- Afterlogic, Newsense, and Parable -- all Miami natives, form the hip-hop trio SoulWhat?, which can be seen making the rounds at live music venues including I/O and Metropolis. But it is from the giant, borderless trunk called the Internet -- using a simple Website and a PayPal account -- that they deliver their fun, smart hip-hop full-length Rewind: Bringing Back the Future, released in 2005. Rewind may be one of the most important albums to come out of Miami in a long time. It's one of the very few to deliver the creative, thoughtful lyricism that has been almost nonexistant in the local music scene. Like all great hip-hop music, Rewind reaches listeners because the performers, with no pressure from a record label, use the album as a medium to actually say what they feel, and can get creative with sound. One of the tracks, "SoulWhat? vs. Beck," samples Beck's mid-Nineties hit "Loser," which along with the trio's brilliant flow makes for an interesting and wonderful mashup. "Gift of Gab" is laid-back and smooth, like Common's earlier work, with a perfect, mellow electric jazz guitar loop. But there's really no need for a review when you can buy the album for only $2 at www.soulwhat.net.
Romulo del Castillo and Josh Kay, Miami natives who form the electronic duo Phoenecia, started Schematic Records in 1996 in Perrine with friends Push Button Objects and Seven, founder of Chocolate Industries, the label that debuted Prefuse 73. "We are an artist-run label/collective. We have no intent on running a real business," Castillo says. "If it sells, great. If not, great." Schematic boasts an impressive roster of electronic musicians, including Secret Frequency Crew, Otto Von Schirach, and Dino Felipe, all of whom are receiving heavy rotation on radio stations such as the University of Miami's WVUM (90.5 FM). The label seems to attract and encourage amazingly creative, diverse artists from all over the world, ranging from the loud, distorted Hearts of Darknesses (listen to "Air Guitar" on their 2003 album, Music for Drunk Driving) to the low-key melodic beauty of Secret Frequency Crew (check out "Aqua" on the group's 2005 album, The Underwater Adventure Hop Secret Treasure). Despite its founders' claimed lack of business ambition, Schematic has artists whose albums are featured on iTunes, so you can hear samples of the work for yourself.
Calling Shuttle Lounge a band is like calling the online community World of Warcraft a videogame. Like the latter, Shuttle Lounge is an environment, a lifestyle. Stuff happens, some of it bad, most of it thrilling. The members of Shuttle Lounge -- Dik Shuttle, Ca$$iu$ Casio KRS "le juan" Love Sebastian Bacherach de la Fenderr Rrhodes, Deuces, Major Whitey Herzog, MalcomxXx, and RavelSTEIN, are inhabited presences who are in character for each and every second of every performance. (And there are a lot of performances, most of them at Churchill's, but ShuttleLoungeLand laps all across SoFla.) The band calls itself a "lounge act," hence the name, and the shtick does include quite a bit of Bill-Murray-as-that-guy-patter, but the lineup is straight-ahead rock: several guitars, some horns, and a really large drum kit. Shuttle Lounge has cover tunes and it has original tunes, but what it seems to excel at is a sort of original-cover mashup, sometimes writing new lyrics for existing melodies and often throwing snippets of lyrics -- a kind of "found poetry" approach -- from other songs as well as au courant pop culture catch phrases into band-written scores. Even if you don't get Dik Shuttle's asides about the inadequacies of parking on the swale or living in suburban Broward County, a Shuttle Lounge live show is infectiously entertaining, and, yes, maybe this is the "lounge" influence too, even a little classy. Even at Churchill's.
Despite his affinity for street performing, Jesse Jackson is not homeless or down on his luck. But if the slim, scruffy guitar player on Lincoln Road asks if he can play you a song, let him. Don't worry -- despite sharing a name with a famous outspoken reverend -- the soulful folk singer won't preach to you. You will, however, leave a fan. And with numerous gigs at venues like Stop Miami, the recent Langerado Festival, and Churchill's, he's acquiring lots of followers -- and it took him only five years.

Best Of Miami®

Best Of Miami®