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West Coast pianist, accordionist, soundtrack playerby Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2004 Todd S. Jenkins
Pete Jolly, one of the most beloved jazz pianists on the West Coast, died on Saturday, November 6, 2004, at the age of 72. Jolly, whose trio with bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Nick Martinis was a popular fixture in Southern California for forty years, was also a gifted organist and accordion player.
Jolly, born Peter Ceragioli in New Haven in 1932, was a child prodigy on the accordion from the age of three. At seven he appeared as the "Boy Wonder Accordionist" on CBS Radio's "Hobby Lobby", where the announcer mispronounced his last name as "Jolly". He liked the sound of it and retained it as his working name. Jolly worked in local house bands while he was still in junior high school and, after the family moved to Phoenix, he backed visiting jazzers like Chet Baker and Benny Carter.
In 1954 Jolly's friend, guitarist Howard Roberts, talked the pianist into moving to Los Angeles. Jolly quickly fell in with the busy jazz scene there, gigging with Barney Kessel and Shorty Rogers' Giants. Within a year he had made his first trio album, "Jolly Jumps In", and his first film soundtrack, for Frank Sinatra's "The Man with the Golden Arm". Among the artists to hire Jolly over the years were Sinatra, Terry Gibbs, Buddy DeFranco, Red Norvo, Art Pepper, Anita O'Day, Mel Tormé, Marty Paich, Herb Alpert and Buddy Collette.
Jolly always preferred the trio format of piano, bass and drums, and in 1964 he gathered his famed trio with Berghofer and Martinis which endured for four decades. Their long tenure led to some remarkable intuition between the three men, capped off by Jolly's incredibly fluid improvisations. Jolly's signature composition was the jaunty "Little Bird", was nominated for a Grammy award in 1963. Several years ago Jolly quipped that the tune was "so popular it could have become a standard if I weren't the only one interested in playing it."
From the mid-1960s onward Jolly balanced his jazz gigs with television and film work, playing on the themes for "Get Smart", "I Spy", "Mannix", "M*A*S*H", "The Love Boat", "Dallas", "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid", and others. In the 1990s Jolly was a member of the reconstituted Lighthouse All-Stars with Shorty Rogers and Bud Shank. He continued to lead his own dates sporadically; his final recording was "Collaboration", a 2001 project with Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren. Jolly remained active until he was hospitalized in August 2004 with multiple myeloma and heart trouble.
Pete Jolly is survived by his wife, Lou, and other relatives.
Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.