Nate Anderson radiates the kind of innate charm and cool confidence that only a natural-born salesman could posses.

It's to be expected, considering that the 27-year-old Ohio native grew up in a family filled with charismatic entrepreneurs. The lanky redhead is also a genuinely easygoing cat, whose social rapport and smooth-talking swagger probably proved invaluable after he moved to Phoenix in 2005 and became a successful real estate broker who pulls in six figures. (Shelley Levene from Glengarry Glen Ross, he is not.) But after this career path proved to be emotionally unrewarding, however, Anderson dropped out of the property-pimping trade.

He's never looked back, however, especially after figuring out his true calling in life: getting musical instruments into the hands of students. In 2008, he created the non-profit Ear Candy to help subsidize and establish music education for local K-12 schools in need. (There's more than a few of those, as Arizona ranks near the bottom in the nation in arts funding).

As a lifelong gourmandizer of music, Anderson (who received eight years of childhood piano training and visits dozens of big-name concert festivals every year) combined this passion with his penchant for social entrepreneurism and began orchestrating fundraising shows and massive instrument drives across Phoenix. It's resulted in two straight years of frantic 16-hour work days, filled with soliciting donations and networking with record label executives, local politicians, venue owners, and chart-topping musicians.

Anderson's also recruited a variety of local bands, including Kinch and Black Carl, for Ear Candy events, both as a means of providing exposure, as well as an attempt to unify Phoenix's segmented (read: cliquish) music scene for a single cause. Best of all, the money and instruments collected go to the institutions in need throughout the Valley.

His hard work, silver tongue, and boundless connections have resulted in some sweet victories so far: He's collected and distributed more than 300 instruments in the past year alone (ranging from bass guitars to accordions), partnered with the likes of Eric Clapton and Jerry Riopelle, and booked popular indie act Harlem Shakes at an Ear Candy gig at Tempe's Sail Inn over the summer.

Anderson is confident Ear Candy's efforts will prove so successful that he'll eventually launch spin-offs in cities from Brooklyn to Boise, and maybe even around the world. Sounds pretty sweet, Nate.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Many years ago, we were driving home at night through the mildly mean streets of Phoenix when we noticed something you never saw back then in these parts. On a non-descript building on then-non-descript Roosevelt Street, we saw tiny, white holiday lights. And it wasnt even Christmas. We asked around, and learned that someone had opened a music space: Modified Arts. Then some crazy kids bought a building and called it eye lounge, setting the stage for the visual arts. Today, Modified and eye lounge have good company an entire neighborhood devoted to the arts: more music spaces, galleries, a record store, a bakery. As we type it, we are still shaking our heads in disbelief, but, yes, we have a bona fide arts district and it even has a funky name: Roosevelt Row. True, it doesnt quite stretch from 16th Street to Grand Avenue, as some claim, but from Seventh Street to Central Avenue, youve got a fabulous core of vibrant activity that spills over into neighboring streets and is starting to take off on days other than the first Friday of the month. Sometimes, dreams do come true and our hearts go out in gratitude to those who dared.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

If we were tacky, we'd give an award for "Best Place to Hold a Memorial Service," and the winner would be the Orpheum Theater. Restored to its glory, trimmed with gold and capped with a breathtaking deep blue, star-strewn ceiling, it's a great place to see a show and an even better place to remember a dreamer.

Fancy-pants elected officials and business types rose one Saturday this summer to honor Jack Pfister, who passed away after a lifetime of public service. They did a nice job. But we could have sat longer that Saturday afternoon; we would have liked to hear from those who saw another side — some would say pointless, others idealistic — of the former utility executive and regent.

Like Loretta Avent, who knew Pfister from their days together on the Harmony Alliance, a multicultural meeting of the minds that began in the early 1990s and drew folks to a different house of worship each week.

"He believed that every cause could be helped — and he helped everyone who came to him," says Avent. She should know; over the years she asked her friend for help with some sticky ones.

And no one mentioned our personal favorite memory of Pfister — the time he stood up to then-Governor J. Fife Symington and his staff during the Project SLIM (State Long-Term Improved Management) scandal. He surely lost friends over that one. No matter. Jack Pfister's real friends packed the Orpheum this summer to remember a man who dared to dream and in so doing, touched many people — and a city.

Best of Phoenix 2009 In Photos

Best Of Phoenix®

Best Of