A Tribute by

Bruce Crowther

Photo: Skip Bolen

Pete Jolly started out in music following in the footsteps of his father and with the same name, Peter Ceragioli. He was born in New Haven, Connecticut, on June 5, 1932. His father played accordion and encouraged his son to take up this instrument, which he did at age three. He studied with a noted teacher of the instrument and achieved a high standard of performance, appearing on radio in 1940 on the CBS show, Hobby Lobby, under the billing of Boy Wonder Accordionist. It was here that he was given the more easily pronounced name by which he was happy to be known thereafter.

Meanwhile, at age six, he had begun taking piano lessons and played in local bands while attending junior high school. As a teenager, he moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona, where he led the house trio at the Jazz Mill, a gig that allowed him to play with visiting jazzmen such as Chet Baker, Benny Carter and Herb Geller. In 1954, he moved to Los Angeles where he quickly built a formidable reputation as a jazz player of distinction and as an in-demand film and television studio musician.

His first job here was with Barney Kessel and in the course of the next several decades his jazz work found him playing in rhythm sections accompanying artists such as Bill Berry, Buddy Collette, Buddy De Franco, Jon Eardley, Terry Gibbs, Benny Goodman, J. J. Johnson, Gerry Mulligan, Lennie Niehaus, Red Norvo, Anita O'Day, Marty Paich, Art Pepper and Mel Tormé. In particular, he played often with Shelly Manne and Shorty Rogers. His first own name album came in 1955, Jolly Jumps In, and around this same time he began playing on film soundtracks, eventually registering some 200 appearances, occasionally on screen, that include The Wild Party (1956), I Want To Live (1959), Willie Dynamite (1973), The Conversation (1974) and Heart Beat (1979). His television recording dates include episodes of Dallas, Get Smart, I Spy, The Love Boat, Mannix and M*A*S*H.

Although the piano had become his first instrument, he continued to play the accordion, bringing to the instrument an enviable lightness of touch and interesting single-note bop styling, and he also sometimes played organ. Starting in 1964, for more than thirty years he led his own trio, the personnel of which was remarkably consistent, the other musicians usually being Chuck Berghofer, bass, and Nick Martinis, drums. One of his compositions, Little Bird, was Grammy-nominated in 1963. From the mid-1980s, in common with many other musicians, Jolly was hired less and less for studio work - synthesizers had begun to take over - and he proportionately increased his jazz club work.

He continued to make records, including 1980's Strike Up the Band, 1995's Yeah, and in 2001 came Collaboration, a set with fellow pianist Jan Lundgren, which proved to be his last formal recording date. Diagnosed with bone marrow cancer, he continued to perform with his trio until August 2004 before being confined to the Huntington Memorial Hospital, Pasadena, California, which is where he died on November 6, 2004.

Throughout his career, Pete Jolly enjoyed the respect of his peers and of discerning audiences. He will be much missed by those who heard him and knew him as someone who not only lived up to his reputation as a fine musician but was also an open and friendly man who reflected the name he bore throughout most of his life. Bruce Crowther

Copyright © 2004 Bruce Crowther.. Used by permission