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A life at Pedrini's: selling records by day, playing jazz by night

In 2011 Kris Fortin spoke with Geraldine Pedrini about Pedrini Music, which had been a major institution in Alhambra. She talked about the early days of the store, moonlighting as a jazz drummer with her husband, and receiving pies and figs from her customers. As reported by Around Alhambra, Geraldine passed away last May. We were saddened to learn about her passing. We've re-posted this story in memory of Geraldine, who was a true Alhambra original. 

When Geraldine Pedrini’s car broke down in Alhambra two years ago, the tow truck driver that came to pick up the vehicle was star struck by the petite 86-year-old lady.

“He was writing my information, and he said, ‘Pedrini? Oh I’m going to tell my mother I . . . picked up a celebrity.’ I said, ‘I’m not a celebrity!’” she said with a chuckle. “He said, ‘Oh yes you are!’.”

For 63 years, Pedrini Music was the place that the LA Times once described as "where Jim Croce meets Ricky Martin and Mozart in a bin of sheet music" on Alhambra's Main Street. For 30 of those years, Geraldine Pedrini was matriarch of the family business, tending to clients by day, playing at nightclubs often in the evenings.

“As soon as anyone knows my name is Pedrini, I hear from all sorts of people," Pedrini said from her home in Alhambra. They tell her, she said, "How wonderful our store was, and what it meant to them when we closed, and what it meant to them when we were opened."

In 1940, when Geraldine was 15 years old and working at her mother’s restaurant the El Paseo Inn on Olvera Street, she met a 17-year-old accordionist Tom Pedrini Jr. “During the intermission of the band, Tom came in the kitchen and took down the towel and started drying the dishes that I had washed, and I thought this is a wonderful man.” she said. “And that’s when I fell in love with him.”

Tom Pedrini Jr., left, and Geraldine Pedrini. - Photo by Hannah Pedraza

He was booked for a night, but did not go away. One afternoon, he took her after school to Pedrini Music in Alhambra. Geraldine adored it. “I would buy all his French records and his Spanish records and listen to them at home, and my Italian records I love them,” she said. Little did she know that she would spend most of her adult life working behind the counter at the store selling music.

Geraldine and Tom Jr. got married two years after they met, but almost immediately were forced apart when he enlisted for service during World War II. As a navigation instructor, he lived across the country throughout the war. Despite the distances, and lack of plane service, Geraldine crisscrossed the country following her husband, taking the bus as far as Maryland. “He always sent for me,” she said.

When the war ended, Tom Jr. returned to Geraldine and Pedrini Music, where he took over managing the store. It was different than the shop where he grew up: the store had started to sell radios, refrigerators because the war effort had made record material scarce. But Tom placed the focus again on music. The store offered music classes and classical instruments like trumpets, violins, pianos, organs, as well as international instruments such as Indian sitars. And the postwar years were good for Pedrini’s: they bought the adjacent stores and increased their size.

For Geraldine, in her 20s, the period was a blur of working the shop during the day and playing clubs at night. She became a drummer when Tom was fed up with his band’s and wanted to replace him. Tom sent Geraldine a drum teacher from Pedrini’s, and after eight lessons she played at her first show. The band played jazz at restaurant clubs in Hollywood, Orange County, and San Marino. Tom and Geraldine moonlighted for years, she said, so they could help pay for bills at the store. The waitresses at Woody and Eddie’s knew the Pedrini’s long schedule, so “they would always have a warm cup of coffee waiting for us.”

Geraldine Pedrini holds up a business card of Pedrini Music. - Photo by Hannah Pedraza

At the original Pedrini Music, Geraldine would organize the sheet music. “I established a foreign section, so I had all different languages represented,” she said.Their three daughters grew up in the shop, and she once actually hid a cribs under the sheet music. Customers baked pies, cookies, shared music tastes and brought figs to the Pedrini’s at the store. “Our whole lives revolved around the store,” she said.

That changed when Tom Pedrini died in 1994 from Lou Gehrig’s disease, and the shop was eventually sold in 2001 after a decrease in sales. Pedrini, who has been slowed by a battle with cancer, spends her time listening to music, knitting, and, when she has the energy, hosting her family and friends.

John Marini, a former coworker of Pedrini’s, opened up Marini Music in the same location. He downsized from the size Pedrini’s had, but the majority of the services have been maintained. And even as the store is gone from the street, one remnant remains: The family maintains a music studio, offering lessons.

But for Geraldine, her time at the shop on Main Street ended when the store closed. On one of the last days it was open, she told her children even though the store was closing there was a blessing to everything.

“As I was cashing out and people come to me with the things that they were buying, half priced," she said. "It would do my heart good to see like some little lady come by and buy an instrument that she would have not been able to afford at the real price.”

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7 thoughts on “A life at Pedrini's: selling records by day, playing jazz by night”

  1. Pedrini’s was the place for everything music in the San Gabriel Valley. In ’82, I had a guitar recital that evening but my guitar had broken a string while practicing at lunch. I zipped over to Pedrini’s and the guy behind the counter fixed it easily. Realizing I didn’t have a penny to pay him with, he already was waving me off and saying it was ok before I could even ask. I’ll never forget Pedrini’s.

  2. I was so thrilled to find this information about Pedrini Music as it meant so much to be when I was a teenager. We came from England and my mother started working behind the counter selling records at Pedrini Music.

    The Pedrini family were so lovely to my mother and me and I became very close to Leslie, their middle daughter, and was in awe of their eldest daughter, Vicky.

    I remember being fascinated by Mrs. Pedrini and the fact that she used to drink beer with a straw!

  3. I remember Mrs. Pedrini well. She knew every piece of sheet music in the store. I’d come in with some obscure request and she knew just what it was and where to find it.

    I also went to AHS with Tom III. I went to a party one night where he sat at the piano for a couple of hours taking requests. He had no music, but could play ANYTHING in any key.

    We went to the store not long before it closed and talked to Vicki. It was a bittersweet visit.

    Bought my piano and several guitars there over the years. It was the best music store ever!

  4. Linda Cooper Smith

    Wonderful article!. I went to Alhambra High School with
    Tom III. Loved hearing about the couple’s history.
    In 8th grade, my friends and I would walk up to Main Street to Pedrini’s to listen to 45 records in “listening booths”. Back then, you could listen before you decided to buy.
    I continued to go to the music store long after that for music items. A memorable place for those of us who grew up in Alhambra.

  5. I grew up buying all my music supplies and sheet music at Pedrini’s. It was a beautiful place for a young musician. Awesome sheet music selection! Treasured memories of going there with my father. What a great store. What a great family. Great story! The photos are expressive and evocative.

  6. They made Alhambra a better place. Thanks for sharing this. I’d love to hear a story about their home on Pyrenees. It’s very unique!

  7. This is terrific, thanks for writing this guys.  Nice job!