Today's highlighted Madison-based musical act is Piccolissimo.
Notorious around Madison for most of this decade as the busking piccoloist dubbed "Orange Guy," Tom Ryan is also front and center in the jazz quartet known as Piccolissimo. The group was formed in 2002 when Ryan hooked up with the Kurt Lang Trio to perform fun and high-pitched jazz. Specializing in standards and show tunes, their repertoire runs though nearly a century of jazz during their monthly sets at the Crystal Corner Bar on Willy Street.
Who are the four guys in the group?
Piccolissimo starts with Ryan on the piccolo and vocals. He's joined by Kurt Lang on the piano, Paul Lynch on bass, and John Lombardo on the drums, with other musicians making guest appearances with them on stage from time to time. It's a quite different sound than Ryan's trademark street piccolo performances on the UW Library Mall and the Dane County Farmers' Market, when he plays everything from TV show tunes to baroque sonatas.
There are five tracks available for listening at the online home of Piccolissimo. "My Heart Stood Still," and "Bernie's Tune" are from their first demo recordings in 2002, while "I Ain't Got Nothing But the Blues," and "Piccolo Insanity" are from their 2003 sojourn in the studio. There are also photos of the quartet in action that are available online.
Of course, Ryan is best known for his multi-year battle with the city (not to mention multiple food cart vendors in Library Mall) over his piccolo playing, which various listeners found too loud and obtrusive, including the Madison police officer who issued him a city noise violation citation in 2003. Ryan challenged the ticket, was found not guilty in early 2004, and has continued his street performances ever since. This tale is told in the 2004 documentary Blaze Orange. Directed by Kevin Kilduff, the documentary featured "local critics and supporters sound[ing] off on the issue of his shrill piccolo tunes and the legal battle surrounding it all." One review writes that the 16-minute film "takes the viewer into another world." It won Best Student Documentary at the 2005 Wisconsin Film Festival.
Enough with the legend behind the group, though.
Piccolissimo plays the first Sunday of every month at the Crystal Corner Bar on the near east side of town. Their next show is set for this Sunday, Dec. 3, right after the Packer game. Ryan will not be playing piccolo at this show, though, with special guest Anna Purnell fill in with the rest of the quartet. The full piccolo monty will be back, though, when the group performs at the Harmony Bar on Monday, Dec. 11. That should round out the year for the group before they return to their roost at the Crystal one week into the new year.
This is the latest featured entry from the Madison Music Project, an online database of Madison-area musicians. Please register or update your current profile on the project for consideration in these highlights.