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.