Pete Jolly lived a double life as studio ace by day and jazz cat by night for over 40 years. A member of the musicians union since his teens, he settled in Los Angeles in his early 20s and became a member of Shorty Rogers' Giants, one of the leading West Coast jazz groups. He also began working as a studio musician in the mid-1950s and decided to divide his energy between the security of studio work and the artistic satisfaction of playing jazz in local clubs in Los Angeles.
Jolly's father, also named Peter, was a superb accordion player, and he started the boy on the instrument not long after weaning. By the time Jolly was seven, his father was taking him by train to New York City once a week to take lessons from the great Joe Biviano, and when he was eight, he made his first broadcast appearance, billed as The Boy Wonder Accordionist on CBS Radio's Hobby Lobby. The show's emcee messed up his name, announcing him as Pete Jolly, but the boy liked the sound of it and used it ever after.
Jolly moved with his family to Phoenix, Arizona, where he became friends with another future studio ace, guitarist Howard Roberts. While still in high school, Jolly managed to get a regular job leading the house trio at a local club, the Jazz Mill, where he played behind such touring jazz starts as Chet Baker and Benny Carter.
After graduating, he kept working at the Jazz Mill, but after a few years, Roberts, who'd moved to Los Angeles, convinced Jolly to move west. In 1954, he arrived, and within days, was hired to play with one of the hottest stars of West Coast Jazz, Shorty Rogers. In a town with no shortage of good piano players, Jolly's exceptional technical skills, rock-solid rhythm, and somewhat self-effacing style made him a hot commodity among jazz stars looking to round out a combo. Over the next ten years, he recorded with most of the best talents passing through L.A.: Gerry Mulligan, Mel Torme, Red Norvo, Buddy De Franco, Terry Gibbs, Art Pepper, Anita O'Day, and Marty Paich.