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Neal Hefti Biography

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Neal Hefti (born October 29, 1922 in Hastings, Nebraska) is an American jazz trumpeter, composer, and arranger.

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".

In the 1960s and later he composed and arranged mainly for movies and television. He wrote the background music for movies such as Sex and the Single Girl, How to Murder Your Wife, Synanon, Boeing Boeing, Harlow, Lord Love a Duck, Duel at Diablo, Oh Dad Poor Dad Mama's Hung You in the Closet and I'm Feelin' So Sad, and Barefoot in the Park.

His best-known contributions of this period are the theme of the TV series such as Batman and The Odd Couple.

Neal Paul Hefti was born October 29, 1922 to an impoverished family in Hastings, Nebraska. As a young child, he remembers his family relying on charity during the holidays (Gitler 1985). He started playing the trumpet in school at the age of eleven, and by high school was spending his summer vacations playing in local territory bands to help his family make ends meet.

Growing up in and near a big city like Omaha, Hefti was exposed to some of the great bands and trumpeters of the Southwest territory bands, and he was also able to see some of the virtuoso jazz musicians from New York that came through Omaha on tour. His early influences all came from the Omaha scene. He said,

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. He said:

While playing with the First Herd, Neal married Herman's vocalist, Frances Wayne. Playing with the band was very enjoyable for Hefti, which made it doubly hard for him to leave when he wanted to pursue arranging and composing full time. Talking about Herman's band, Hefti said,

In 1950, Hefti started arranging for Count Basie and what became known as "The New Testament" band. According to Hefti in a Billboard interview, Basie wanted to develop a stage band that could appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. Although the New Testament band never became a show band in that sense, it was much more of an ensemble band than Basie's previous bands. Hefti's tight, well-crafted arrangements resulted in a new band identity that was maintained for more than twenty years (Dance 1980). In his autobiography, Count Basie recalls their first meeting and the first compositions that Hefti provided the new band:

Outside of his groundbreaking work with the new Basie band, Hefti also led a big band of his own during the Fifties. In 1951, one of these bands featured his wife Frances on vocals. They recorded and toured off and on with this and other incarnations of this band throughout the Fifties. Although his own band did not attain the same level of success as the famous bands he arranged for, he did receive a Grammy nomination for his own Jazz Pops album which included recordings of "Li'l Darlin," "Cute," and "Coral Reef."

Later in the Fifties 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 Sixties. During this time he began working for the Hollywood film industry, and he enjoyed tremendous popular success writing music for film and television. He wrote quite a bit of background and theme music for motion pictures, including the films "Sex and the Single Girl," "How to Murder Your Wife," "Synanon," "Boeing Boeing," "Lord Love a Duck," "Duel at Diablo," "Barefoot in the Park" and "Harlow," for which he received two Grammy nominations for the song "Girl Talk". While most of his compositions during this period were geared to the demands of the medium and the directors, there were many moments when he was able to infuse his work with echoes of his jazz heritage.

In 1961 Hefti joined with Frank Sinatra on Sinatra's "Swingin' Brass," 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. His "Batman" title theme, a simple cyclic twelve bar blues-based theme, became a Top 10 single for The Marketts and later for Hefti himself. His theme for "The Odd Couple" movie, was reprised as part of his score for the television series of the early Seventies. He received two Grammy nominations for his work on The Odd Couple television series.

Throughout these years and into the Seventies, Hefti periodically formed big bands either for club, concert or record dates.

Neal Hefti will probably be best remembered for his popular music work for Hollywood during the Sixties. Although most people cannot name the author of the popular "Batman Theme," it is a consistent favorite. However, Hefti should most of all be remembered as one of the most important composers and arrangers of big band bebop era. Although he was a capable trumpet player, playing with the influential First Herd during the Forties, he should be remembered for his arranging and composing. While his tenures with Charlie Spivak, Woody Herman, and Charlie Ventura were crucial in the development of his bebop ear, it was how he used his bop experience as a composer and arranger that made him a pivotal figure in the careers of many bands. His compositions for the Woody Herman band, like "Wild Root" and "The Good Earth" in the Forties and "Li'l Darlin" and "Cute" for the Count Basie band in the Fifties, left an indelible mark on those bands, and those bands left an indelible mark on the field of jazz.

Compositions include Li'l Darlin', Cute, Coral Reef, Plymouth Rock, Buttercup, Two for the Blues, Cherry Point, Oh What a Night for Love, The Kid from Red Bank, Repetition, Splanky, Sunday Morning, Hot Pink, Little Pony, Blowin' up a Storm, Eee Dee, Lake Placid, Why Not?, The Long Night, I'm Shoutin' Again, Jump for Johnny, The Good Earth, Wild Root, Late Date, It's Always Nice to Be with You, Girl Talk, I Must Know, Batman Theme, Uncle Jim, Duet, Fawncy Meeting You, Sure Thing, Falling in Love All Over Again, Softly with Feeling, Time for the Blues, You for Me, Has Anyone Here Seen Basie?, Pensive Miss, Scoot, Sloo Foot, It's Awfully Nice to Be with You, Count Down, A Little Tempo, Please, Pony Tail, Bag-a' Bones, and Teddy the Toad.

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