We caught up with the legendary BILL JOLLY during one of his slow down times from his very busy schedule.....
What was the first instrument you ever played? The drums. I really thought I'd end up as a drummer but so glad I didn't.
How did you learn to play the piano? I played the drums for my first band in Jr. High School. We had a genius piano player in the band. He quit the band and told us we'd never make it. I asked every piano player I could find to join our band. They all said no. I got angry and taught myself how to play because I was determined to never be without a piano player again. I guess the rest is history so to speak.
Who was your inspiration to get into the music industry? When I heard James Brown's "Cold Sweat" for the first time there was no doubt that I was going to be a musician. I just loved his grooves. Motown music sounded so good to me back then as well and I realized that I really loved their songs, artists, musicians and arrangements. My first real gig was playing drums with my father's gospel group called "The Pearly Gates of Chester." Sound of Philly producer Thom Bell also had a large influence on me, although I didn't know that what I was actually hearing was the genius of his music productions. Interestingly, Thom Bell is one of my personal musical mentors and friends today.
What was your most memorable moment when you went to college? What I remembered the most was that I tried out for the jazz band pianist position for 4 straight years and failed the audition all 4 times I tried. I also flunked piano 101 in my freshman year. However, in later years West Chester University bestowed upon me the Distinguished Alumni Award, the MLK Medal for Peace and my face was used in large marketing campaigns for the school's enrollment in hundreds of movie theaters and magazines. There is currently a statue of Fredrick Douglass on the campus with my name engraved on it and in 2014, I was asked to come back to West Chester University to give the Commencement Speech to the 2013 graduating class. I received the 1st standing ovation for a Commencement service since I graduated. The moral is...Never give up!
What are some of your pet peeves when it comes to music? My pet peeves? I'm not fond of people who are late, unprepared and self-centered who also possess a poor attitude and massive amounts of ego. So much of what I do is deadline driven so it really helps when folks are on time, prepared, nice to work with and professional.
What are some of the mistakes that you see some artists make when it comes to producing a song? Everybody has their own production style and many producers even break the rules on purpose, which can also be cool. However, I have never liked songs that go nowhere, meaning, they do not inspire me either lyrically, emotionally, beat wise, intellectually or from a raw musical and performance perspective. A well produced song should make you feel some type of emotion when it's finished.
What age were you when you first got into music? I knew I loved music when I was 6 months. I loved the sound of our old radio and record player and I would sit in front of it for hours and turn up the bass knob.
During your down time who is your favorite artist to listen to? Music is like food to me. I don't eat the same thing every day. I really listen to it all but gravitate to certain artists depending on my mood. Sometimes it's Bob Marley, sometimes it's 70's soul, sometimes it Pink, Beatles, Kirk Franklin, Frank Sinatra or Bruno Mars. Tower of Power is my favorite band. I love rap, rock, jazz, classical, latin and country music as well. Really, anything done with integrity and a good feel will gain my attention.
Bill Jolly, when did you received your first Emmy and what was your reaction when you got it? Not too good with dates but I think it was the 1990's for my 1st one. I was really happy because it's an award that is voted on by your peers. The respect of my peers really means a lot to me. How many times were you featured in Keyboard Magazine? I've been featured twice in Keyboard Magazine.
How long have you been a music composer? I have composed music all of my life I think. I used to make beats in my head in the 1st grade using my own style of what is now referred to as "beat-boxing" during classes. My 1st big break as a composer came when I wrote the theme song for 6ABC's "Am Phila." I went on to write many of the station’s promos and themes after that. After that, I began to write for all of the other local stations around town. Then, I went nationally with HBO, MTV, Showtime, etc., on to commercials with McDonalds, Coke and Hyatt and then to movie theaters, composing music for some of Oscar Nominated Director Lee Daniels' films. I also co-write with lots of "regular people" who just need help writing and producing their own original music here in my home studio.
Who are some of the artists you’ve worked with? I have worked with a lot of them. Pink, Usher, Jill Scott, Stevie Wonder, Celine Dion, Ledisi, Michael Buble', Chaka Kahn, Kim Burrell, Lalah Hathaway, Anthony Hamilton, Brian McKinight, Aretha, etc, etc,. My first big gig was as the keyboartdist/musical director for saxophonist Grover Washington, Jr. I also sang “Just The Two of Us” during concerts. I loved Grover. I’ve worked with a bunch of folks from lots of different genres. I have also directed the RnB Foundation Awards, the Susan G. Komen Gala at the Kennedy Center, Radio One's 25th Anniversary Gala (featuring Beyonce') and I'm the resident Musical Director for the Marian Anderson Awards. I’ve done a lot of musical tributes to a wide range of artists with them in attendance; from Billy Joel to Bon Jovi, EWF to Wynton Marsalis and Stevie Wonder to Shirley Caesar. I love diversity.
How was it to work for the legendary Michael Jackson? I first met Michael when I was in High School. My writing partner at the time, Regina Hooks knew him well and we spent the day with Michael and his father Joe playing new songs in a hotel room. The last time I saw him was at Clinton's Inauguration. I was a member of the Clinton All-Star Choir conducted by Quincy Jones and Michael, Diana Ross, Luther Vandross, Ray Charles, everybody was there. Personally he was soft spoken, introspective and quiet but professionally he was amazingly talented and a genius.
What is your feed back when it comes to hip hop and politics? It's been said that Hip hop is the CNN of the streets. They are both intertwined and many hip hop artists are more knowledgable on current affairs, the will of the people and policy than some politicians are.
What advice can you give to young composers coming into the music business? Listen to everything. Never stop learning. Study the past but stay up on the latest technology and trends. Learn the piano. Be likable and never miss a deadline. Network and market your skills. Sometimes the opportunity is more important than the money. Study the business side and music law. Do things really well or not at all.