Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Neal Hefti, Composer, Is Dead at 85

Bird played Hefti tunes.

Neal Hefti, whose renown as a forward-looking composer and arranger for Woody Herman and Count Basie was probably overwhelmed forever after he went to Hollywood and wrote the theme for the 1960’s television show “Batman,” and for the movie and television versions of “The Odd Couple,” died Saturday at home in Toluca Lake, Calif. He was 85.

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.”

Mr. Hefti, left, with Frank Sinatra, during a 1961 recording session.

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