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Pete Jolly, 72; Jazz Pianist, Composer and Accordion Player

Times Staff Writer

Pete Jolly, a jazz pianist and accordion player known for his disciplined work as a studio musician as well as his improvisational keyboarding in live performances, has died. He was 72.

Jolly, whose composition “Little Bird” was nominated for a Grammy in 1963, died Saturday at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena of complications of bone marrow cancer and an irregular heartbeat.

The Pete Jolly Trio, which for more than 35 years included Jolly, bassist Chuck Berghofer and drummer Nick Martinis, had continued to perform in Southern California clubs until Jolly’s hospitalization in late August.

Jolly first brought the trio together in 1964 to perform at the Red Chimney jazz club in Silver Lake. A year later they became one of the first groups to play at Donte’s, a now-defunct jazz venue in North Hollywood.

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“A trio is more mobile, more transparent, there’s a more open feeling,” the veteran of the recording studio told The Times in 1993. “Piano, bass and drums -- that’s really my love.”

Born Peter A. Ceragioli Jr. in New Haven, Conn., on June 5, 1932, he began studying accordion with his father at age 3 and at 7 appeared on the nationwide CBS radio program “Hobby Lobby.” Billed as the “Boy Wonder Accordionist,” he was mistakenly introduced by the announcer as “Pete Jolly.” The young musician liked the mispronunciation so much he adapted it as his professional name.

Tagging along on his father’s gigs, the boy became fascinated with the piano and began taking lessons when he was 6. While in junior high school, Jolly was playing in local bands. After the family moved to Phoenix, the teenager led the house trio at the Jazz Mill, backing such guest artists as Benny Carter, Chet Baker and Herb Geller.

Jolly moved to Los Angeles in 1954, playing with Barney Kessel and the Shorty Rogers Giants, and became a fixture in the softer, cooler West Coast jazz movement. In 1955, he recorded his first trio album, “Jolly Jumps In,” and was heard on his first motion picture soundtrack, “The Man with the Golden Arm,” starring Frank Sinatra.

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Readily adaptable, Jolly worked steadily as a studio musician from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, when the advent of synthesizers sent him back to live sets in small jazz clubs.

His talent on piano, organ and accordion bolstered memorable music for television’s “MASH,” “Dallas,” “The Love Boat,” “Mannix,” “I Spy” and “Get Smart,” among others. He was heard on the soundtracks of some 200 motion pictures, including “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

Considered a facile pianist and one of the few important jazz accordionists in the single-line style, Jolly also performed and recorded with Buddy DeFranco, Terry Gibbs, Red Norvo, Buddy Collette, Art Pepper and his own groups.

Among his recordings were “The Sensational Pete Jolly Gases Everybody” in 1963, “Strike Up the Band” in 1980 and “Yeah” in 1995. His last album, with Swedish pianist Jan Lundgren, was “Collaboration” in 2001.

“I’ve been fortunate to do a lot of the things that I wanted to do,” Jolly once told The Times. “You go out and play what you want and people enjoy it. It’s been a nice life for me.”

Information on survivors and services was not immediately available.


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