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Herb Alpert Presents Pete Jolly
A&M SP 4145

Cover of Herb Alpert Presents Pete Jolly

Pete Jolly was one of the more remarkable musicians to have worked in Hollywood over the last fifty years. Remarkable in that he managed to balance his career as a busy studio musician with that as an active jazz performer for a longer time and with less personal turbulence than just about anyone else out there. Since the early 1960s, he racked up tens of thousands of hours of studio time playing on great, good, and forgettable pop recordings, for everyone from Ray Conniff to Frank Zappa.

At the same time, he led a jazz trio that performed in clubs around the L.A. area for over 40 years straight and was been able to put out over a dozen albums, if rarely on the same label twice. Now, there are plenty of studio musicians who came from the jazz world and who moved back and forth periodically, but what's unusual about Jolly's career is that he did it continuously. And he kept his trio essentially intact for most of that time. Nick Martinis played drums with him since the mid-1950s, and Chuck Berghofer since 1964, when Jolly's original bassist, Ralph Pena, died in a car accident. Together, they could be heard in Donte's, the Lighthouse, Shelly Manne's Manne Hole, or another club just about any month--almost any week--in the last four decades.

Whatever he may have been playing in the studios, on his own records Jolly has stuck to straight-ahead jazz. You won't find much experimentation here, just superb jazz piano backed with as finely-tuned a rhythm section as you'll ever hear. Jolly is not a flashy player. He's certainly technical proficient, capable of spinning out a flurry of notes like Oscar Peterson or Art Tatum. But that's not his style. On the other hand, he's no minimalist. Just catch his transition from third to the fourth stanza, and then again from the fourth to the fifth. Still, overall he's got a light touch. He didn't believe in folding, spindling, and mutilating a tune. Instead he takes little improvisational excursions, never venturing too far from the melody, but showing it off from a variety of harmonic and chromatic angles.

This album was a standout in A&M Records' early catalog, its first and only jazz album (with the sole exception of Jolly's follow-up, Give a Damn) until producer Creed Taylor signed on in the late 1960s. I think it's indicative of the esteem in which Jolly's talent was held by his fellow musicians that Herb Alpert would make this his label's first jazz release and produce it himself. In the spare liner notes, Alpert writes,

Since liner notes are seldom written by people who come into direct contact with the artist or the recording sessions in question, and since Pete Jolly really tells his own story inside this package, I'll forego the usual copy on his first A&M release and simply say that I'm proud to have played a part in producing an album for people of all ages with one of the finest musicians in the world today.
Veteran session player Earl Palmer sits in for Martinis on this recording, and Alpert regular John Pisano adds his guitar to Berghofer's bass to round out the rhythm section. Marty Paich provides an understated arrangement that uses muted brass, flutes, and strings so subtlely you have to pay attention to catch when the arrangement comes in to complement the basic quartet.

Another sign of Jolly's skill is how effortlessly he carries off this Burt Bacharach tune. Bacharach was never one to write simple songs, and his own arrangements are usually so definitive that everyone else's cover ends up sounding like an imitation rather than an interpretation. Or else the musicians have to take the tune so far away from original that what's left are tatters. Jolly, however, preserves the melody and the spirit of the song but makes it very much his own. It fits in easily with the other tracks on the album. To get a real sense of how difficult a trick that is, just listen to how better-known jazz musicians such as McCoy Tyner or Stan Getz struggle to balance their own style with Bacharach's. Not to knock what either of them did; just to illustrate the kind of challenge Jolly could take on without (apparently) breaking a sweat.

This track fits Mickey McGowan's definition of a great record: it can be played in the background without disturbing you, and played in the foreground without boring you. Try it both ways for yourself and see if you don't agree. Bravo, Pete!


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