Neal Hefti (trumpet) 1921 -2008 ::Neal Hefti was an American jazz trumpeter, composer, tune writer, and arranger. He composed the theme music for the Batman television series of the 1960s, and scored the 1968 film The Odd Couple and the subsequent TV series also titled The Odd Couple.
He began arranging professionally in his teens, when he wrote charts for Nat Towles. He became a prominent composer and arranger while playing trumpet for Woody Herman; while working for Herman he provided new arrangements for “Woodchopper’s Ball” and “Blowin’ Up a Storm,” and composed “The Good Earth” and “Wild Root.”
After leaving Herman’s band in 1946, Hefti concentrated on arranging and composing, although he occasionally led his own bands. He is especially known for his charts for Count Basie such as “Li’l Darlin’” and “Cute”.
wo days before his high school graduation ceremony in 1941, he got an offer to go on tour with the Dick Barry band, and traveled with them to New Jersey. He was quickly fired from the band after two gigs because he couldn’t sight-read music well enough. Stranded in New Jersey because he didn’t have enough money to get home to Nebraska, he finally joined Bob Astor’s band.
Hefti wouldn’t focus on arranging seriously for a few more years. As a member of Astor’s band, he concentrated on playing trumpet.
After an injury forced him to leave Bob Astor, he stayed a while in New York, playing with Bobby Byrne in late 1942, and then with Charlie Barnet for whom he wrote the classic arrangement of Skyliner.
He finally left New York for a while to play with the Les Lieber rhumba band in Cuba. When he returned from Cuba in 1943, he joined the Charlie Spivak band, which led him out to California for the first time, to make a band picture. Hefti fell in love with California. After making the picture in Los Angeles, he dropped out of the Spivak band to stay in California. After playing with Horace Heidt in Los Angeles for a few months in 1944, Hefti met up with Woody Herman who was out in California making a band picture.
Hefti then joined Herman’s progressive First Herd band as a trumpeter. The Herman band was a different from any band that he had played with before. He referred to it as his first experience with a real jazz band.
During these years with Herman’s band, as they started to turn more and more towards bop ideas, Hefti started to turn more of his attention and effort to writing, at which he quickly excelled. He composed and arranged some of First Herd’s most popular recordings, including two of the band’s finest instrumentals: “Wild Root” and “The Good Earth”.
In 1950, Hefti started arranging for Count Basie and what became known as “The New Testament” band. Hefti’s compositions and arrangements featured and recorded by the orchestra established the distinctive, tighter, modern sound of the later Basie. His work was popular with both the band and with audiences. Basie said, “There is something of his on each one of those first albums of that new band.”
One of the new Basie band’s most popular records was titled Basie and subtitled “E=MC²=Count Basie Orchestra+Neal Hefti Arrangements,” now more commonly referred to as Atomic Basie, an album featuring eleven songs composed and arranged by Hefti, including the now-standard ballad “Lil’ Darlin” and “Splanky.” Also on the album were “The Kid from Red Bank” featuring a gloriously sparse piano solo that was Basie’s hallmark, and other songs that quickly became Basie favorites, such as “Flight of the Foo Birds” with Eddie Lockjaw Davis’ flying tenor solo, “Fantail” with Frank Wess’s soaring alto solo, and the masterpiece ensemble lines of “Teddy the Toad”. These pieces are evidence of both Hefti’s masterful hand, and the strong ensemble that Count Basie had put together.
Hefti’s influence on the Basie sound was so successful, his writing for the band so strong, that Basie used his arranging talents even when recording standard jazz tunes with the likes of Frank Sinatra.
Later in the 1950s he finally abandoned trumpet playing altogether to concentrate on scoring and conducting. He had steady work conducting big bands, backing singers in the studio during recording sessions, and appearing on the television shows of Arthur Godfrey, Kate Smith and others.
He moved back to his beloved California in the early 1960s. During this time he began working for the Hollywood film industry, and he enjoyed tremendous popular success writing music for film and television.
In 1961 Hefti joined with Frank Sinatra on his Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass album where Hefti was credited as arranger and conductor of the album’s 12 cuts.
He also wrote background and theme music for television shows, including Batman and The Odd Couple. He received three Grammy nominations for his television work and received one award for his Batman television score.