Pete Jolly (June 5, 1932 – November 6, 2004) was an American West Coast jazz pianist and accordionist. He was well known for his performance of television themes and various movie soundtracks.
|Howard Roberts with Pete Jolly|
Jolly was raised in Phoenix, AZ, a hotbed of jazz and jazz talent at the time. One of his best friends and collaborators in Phoenix was guitarist Howard Roberts, whom he met at the age of 13. Following Roberts to Los Angeles in 1952, Jolly immediately began working with the best players on the West Coast jazz scene, including Shorty Rogers. He moved easily into studio and session work. Besides his brilliance on the piano, he was a virtuosic accordionist.
He recorded three albums as a leader for Victor in 1956 (taking rare jazz accordion solos on a few tracks). Despite his early mastery of the accordion, Jolly's recordings with the instrument are few or anonymous. He pumps a mean squeezebox on Continental Jazz by "Les Cinqs Moderne," a Gallic version of Somerset's Hawaiian super group, The Surfmen. Among musicians in the L.A. area, though, Jolly was considered one of the best accordion players around.
His composition "Little Bird" (a minor hit on Fred Astaire's Ava label) was nominated for a Grammy Award in 1963, when he formed the Pete Jolly Trio. With the Trio and as a solo artist, he recorded several albums, one of the last of which was a 2000 collaboration with Jan Lundgren. His final album, recorded in Phoenix in May 2004 shortly before his death, was "It's a Dry Heat" with saxophonist Jerry Donato.
He also worked with other notable jazz artists, including Buddy DeFranco, Art Pepper and Red Norvo, and for many years with music arranger and director Ray Conniff as well as Herb Alpert, recording on Alpert's record label, A&M as both a sideman and a leader. He can be heard on the opening bars of Alpert's 1968 #1 hit, "This Guy's in Love." In addition to A&M Pete Jolly has recorded for Metrojazz, MGM, Ava, Charlie Parker Records, RCA,Columbia, A&M, Atlas, Holt, and V.S.O.P. as a leader.
Jolly's music can be heard on television programs such as Get Smart, The Love Boat, I Spy, Mannix, M*A*S*H and Dallas, as well as hundreds of movie soundtracks. He recreated all of Bud Powell's playing with Charlie Parker for the Clint Eastwood movie, Bird. By day, Jolly worked in the studios; by night, with his trio. Jolly continued to perform with his trio in Los Angeles jazz clubs until shortly before being hospitalized in August 2004.
His final public performance with his trio was in Reno, Nevada, and Jolly said it was the best he had ever played; a fitting coda to a great career and great musical spirit. Together for nearly fifty years, The Pete Jolly Trio had only one bassist, Chuck Berghofer and one drummer, Nick Martinis, something of a world record. Berghofer later said, "In all that time, Pete never once told me how to play or what to play."
Pete Jolly died in Pasadena, California, from complications of multiple myeloma in November 2004, aged 72.
It's a shame that Jolly never got the popular recognition as a soloist he deserved. His style is so sure yet so light and flowing, it belies the depth of skill behind it. There are pianists--most notoriously, Oscar Peterson--who build their style around an ability to play exceptionally fast and well. Jolly could play every bit as fast as Peterson, but always let the tune take the showcase. (Info various but mainly from Wikipedia)