Thursday, October 16, 2008

Sad News ... Legendary Composer, Arranger Neal Hefti Passes Away

Shortly before last evening's debate, I descried various news articles and posts that gave me a heavy heart.

No, not that I would have to endure, yet, another debate (and, the angry Stumblin' Bumblin' John McKKKain), but that one of my Jazz heroes died.

Neal Hefti, long associated with the Count Basie Band, Woody Herman's Thundering Herd, and a bevy of other greats.

From the NYT Obit;

Over the years, Hefti, first known as a jazz trumpeter in the 1940s and 1950s, was much admired and much in demand as an arranger, conductor and occasional record producer; he worked with Frank Sinatra, Doris Day, Mel Tormé and Tony Bennett, among others. He also led his own bands, and he was active as a player until 1960.

But his greatest sphere of influence was as an arranger and composer for other jazz artists. His early travels with jazz bands took him to New York, where he was mesmerized by the bebop playing of Dizzy Gillespie, and joined the Herman band — known as First Herd — in 1944. He was influential in moving that band from its swing roots in the direction of bebop.

"If it wasn't for Neal Hefti, the Basie band wouldn't sound as good as it does," Miles Davis said in 1955. "But Neal's band can't play those same arrangements nearly as well."
From The Times On-Line UK;
Away from the world of Hollywood Hefti will be remembered as the man who shaped the sound of the postwar Count Basie Orchestra, and who also produced dozens of skilful, well-crafted arrangements for Woody Herman and Harry James.

When Basie eventually re-formed his full orchestra, Hefti became one of his principal writers. The album The Atomic Basie remains the best work that the group did in the 1950s, playing entirely Hefti’s arrangements.

He had started writing for Harry James in the late 1940s, but in the 1950s Hefti furnished James with numerous compositions, designed to feature the leader’s trumpet and the band’s star drummer Buddy Rich.

Nevertheless, Hefti was by this time writing in a similar style to that which he used for Basie, giving rise to the apocryphal story that when the two bands met on a television show, Basie drily asked James: “Are you going to play our arrangements first, or are we?”
From The Independent (UK);
It is grotesque that Neal Hefti, one of jazz's greatest orchestrators, should be best remembered for a 12"x12" picture of an atomic bomb exploding. The album The Atomic Mr Basie (1957), for which Hefti wrote all the music, was an embarrassment for him and Count Basie, both in its title and the cover picture, but it made a fortune for them and for the record company and remains one of the most memorable big band albums of all time. Hefti's beautiful ballad "Li'l Darlin' " from that set stuck in the public's memory and the Basie band played it regularly in concert ever after.

It's also sad that too many newspapers and websites will present this news, highlighting that Hefti wrote the theme songs for televisions' "Batman" and "The Odd Couple", then presenting his illustrious Jazz career as a side note.

NPR: Neal Hefti, Big Band Trumpeter, TV Theme Composer, Dies

Washington Post: Composer Neal Hefti; Jazz Master Penned Theme for 'Batman'

Los Angeles Times: Neal Hefti dies at 85; former big band trumpeter, arranger and composer

Neal Hefti on Wikipedia

Since it is mentioned above, and also, one of my all-time favorites ...

Lil' Darling - Count Basie

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