How Big Tiny Little got his name

Former Lawrence Welk stalwart heads up the Paradise Jazz and Food Festival

HE MAY BE TINY, BUT HE’S BIG Flamboyant but portly pianist Big Tiny Little (seated) has played with the stars, including Liberace, Peter Nero, Dean Martin and others.

HE MAY BE TINY, BUT HE’S BIG Flamboyant but portly pianist Big Tiny Little (seated) has played with the stars, including Liberace, Peter Nero, Dean Martin and others.

The Paradise Food and Jazz Festival
Saturday July 7, 2001, Paradise Performing Arts Center

One critic says he plays “like the piano is on fire,” and another writes that he has “the speed of Oscar Peterson, the left hand of Fats Waller, the rhythm of Errol Garner and the imagination of André Previn.” High praise indeed.

Flamboyant pianist Big Tiny Little, son of a Midwestern bandleader of the same name, began his career with music lessons at the age of 5, went on the road at 15 and has been an entertainer ever since. He served in the Armed Forces and during his hitch in Japan organized a jazz band composed of Japanese musicians. “We played every night,” he says.

As a result of his leap to national fame during four years on television’s The Lawrence Welk Show, Little has been labeled “Mr. Honky Tonk” and stereotyped as a player primarily of ragtime. In a telephone conversation from Sacramento, he told us he originated the popular television spot, which, upon his leaving the show, was carried on by Joann Castle. Welk dubbed him “Tiny Little, Jr.” to distinguish him from his father. Later, facing his own rather portly reality, Little added the “Big” and dropped the “junior,” thereby creating the splendid moniker he currently carries.

Little has recorded a large number of albums and appeared on numerous television show including the Mike Douglas, Steve Allen and Dean Martin shows. His favorite, he says, was a Dinah Shore special during which he appeared with Liberace, Peter Nero and Ray Charles, talking about the development of the piano. He and his band also played at the Ronald Reagan inaugural ball in 1985.

The versatile pianist is also accustomed to numerous showrooms in Reno and Las Vegas, including the Riverside and Mapes Hotels and the Stardust, Tropicana and Riviera (having also performed in every state in the U.S. except Maine). When asked, “Why not Maine?” Tiny says wryly, “Having been born in Minnesota, I’d had enough of cold weather.”

Big Tiny Little heads up an eight- piece band at the Food and Jazz Festival to be held on Saturday, July 7, at the Paradise Performing Arts Center. The event is presented by the Rotary Club to benefit the Paradise Ridge Boys and Girls Club.

The Chico-based King Cotton Jazz Band opens the show at 7:30 p.m. with its own take on the enduring Dixieland style of jazz, according to leader Craig Strode. The group continues the 1950s and ‘60s Dixieland revival style that has taken them to the Sacramento, Monterey and Honolulu jazz festivals as well as many other cities. The band has a CD out, What It Is Today, and a second CD is in the works, Strode says.

Making up the classic Dixieland configuration of piano, clarinet, trombone, trumpet, bass and drums are musicians George Fiedler, Dwayne Ramsey, Les Webb, Strode, Randy Reaves and Mike Ross, respectively.

Big Tiny Little and his Show Band take over the stage for a program featuring a wide variety of styles: ragtime, jazz, Dixieland, some swing and, Little says, “a little barrelhouse.” Backing him will be musicians Hal Little (no relation!) on drums, guitarist Steve Crowell, Phil Jerome on bass guitar, trumpet player Dick Wright, Ed Easton, who used to play sax in Lionel Hampton’s and Harry James’ bands, John Landis and Gordy Anderson.

The Food and Jazz Festival will offer sample size culinary delights from more than 16 local eating establishments in the parking area of the Paradise Performing Arts Center, opening at 4 p.m. Among the featured foods: egg rolls from Moon Gate, Sorrento’s lobster ravioli, tri-tip steak by Youth for Change, Joy Lyn’s chocolate dipped strawberries and ribs from Smokie Mountain.

You can also sample chili, Caesar salad, taquitos, rice bowls, apple crisp and more. Punch tickets cost $15 with 10 punches each and are available through Paradise Rotary members. All booths will display the punch cost of their food items, ranging from one to two punches, and extra tickets will be available at the event.

At 7 p.m., the lobby opens for a no-host bar and seating for the jazz concert. Reserved-seat concert tickets cost $15, $20 and $25 and are available at Butte Community Bank, House of Color, Country Touch and the Boys and Girls Club of Chico and Paradise Ridge as well as the Performing Arts Center and from Rotary members.

The Paradise Ridge Boys and Girls Club is a nonprofit organization providing positive activities for young people of the area.