Neal Paul Hefti (October 29, 1922, Hastings, Nebraska – October 11, 2008, Toluca Lake, California), was a popular American jazz trumpeter composer and arranger, whose work played a crucial role in the success of Woody Herman and Count Basie. Hefti went on to write award-winning scores for Hollywood films and television shows. He wrote the theme for the 1960’s television show Batman, and for the movie and television versions of The Odd Couple. Hefti worked with Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Mel Tormé and Tony Bennett, among others. Movies he worked on included Boeing Boeing and How to Murder Your Wife (both 1965) and Barefoot in the Park (1967).
Neal Paul Hefti was born October 29, 1922, to a poor family in Hastings, Nebraska. The Depression was biting hard on the family’s finances and the family often depended on charity groups to survive. His father was a travelling salesman and his mother was a music teacher. Together with his three brothers and two sisters, he received lessons in piano and basic musical theory from an early age. When Hefti was about ten years old, he had received a trumpet for Christmas, and started studying the trumpet when he was eleven.
High school, first attempts at arrangements and graduation
When he was in high school, Hefti earned money for his family playing in area bands. He also was able to see Count Basie, Dizzy Gillespie, Gab Calloway, and other jazz bands from New York that came through Omaha on tour, the young Hefti was heavily influenced by them. While still in high school Hefti began writing arrangements for small-time bands, he was almost entirely self-taught, picking up ideas from bands he heard on the radio. After graduation he toured with various groups, before working for name orchestras such as Charlie Barnet, Charlie Spivak, Horace Heidt, and Woody Herman.
In 1941 Hefti moved to New York, where he played trumpet in the bands of Charlie Barnet and Charlie Spivak. In 1943 Hefti travelled with the latter to Hollywood to appear in the film Pin Up Girl and stayed on when the band returned to New York. After playing for a while in Los Angeles with Horace Heidt’s band, Hefti joined the Herman trumpet section. In 1944, on the recommendation of bassist Chubby Jackson, Hefti joined Herman’s First Herd. He was influential in moving that band from its swing roots in the direction of bebop. While a trumpeter with Herman, Hefti crafted hits such as Caledonia and Apple Honey, which were among the earliest big-band uses of bebop concepts. Caldonia was his first hit arrangement for Herman in early 1945. By the fall, Hefti had carved out a new explosive bop sound for the band with The Good Earth, Black Orchid, Wild Root and Blowin’ Up a Storm.
Marriage and freelance arranging
In October 1945 Hefti married Herman’s vocalist, Frances Wayne. The Heftis finally left Woody Herman in late 1946, and Neal began freelance arranging. He wrote charts for Buddy Rich’s band, and the ill-fated Billy Butterfield band. He wrote a few arrangements and compositions for George Auld’s band. Hefti’s first arrangement for Count Basie was an octet session in 1950 that resulted in Neal’s Deal, Bluebeard Blues and others. The following year Hefti began arranging in earnest for Basie’s big band, which became known as The New Testament band. He wrote and arranged compositions such as Little Pony, Plymouth Rock, Cherry Point, Cute, Coral Reef, Splanky and others. Lil’ Darlin was his most significant composition followed closely by Cute.
Success in writing television and film scores
By 1960, Hefti had become an executive and artist for Frank Sinatra’s Reprise label, helming the notable Sinatra and Swingin’ Brass (Reprise, 1962) and several of his own albums (Themes From TV’s Top 12, 1961, and Jazz Pops, 1962). Starting in the 1960s, Mr. Hefti found great success writing television and film scores. In I960 Hefti wrote the Batman theme song, for which he won his only Grammy. In addition to writing the theme for The Odd Couple (1968), he composed the scores for two other Neil Simon films, Barefoot in the Park (1967) and Last of the Red Hot Lovers (1972). His other film work included Duel at Diablo (1966), A New Leaf (1971), Sex and the Single Girl (1964), Boeing Boeing (1965) and How to Murder Your Wife (1965). His 1965 score for Harlow included the hit song Girl Talk. In 1966 he gained a Grammy Award for his theme to the Batman television series.
Following his wife’s death in 1978, Hefti gradually withdrew from active music making. In later years he concentrated on taking care of his copyrights. Neal Hefti died at the age of 85, on October 11, 2008, in Toluca Lake, California. The epitaph on his tomb at Forest Lawn in Hollywood reads, “Forever in Tune.”
You can find and download free scores of the composer: