Sunday, October 19, 2008

HEFTI'S BAG: more than Odd Couple & Batman

Along with the late (see the entry further down the page) Nappy Brown, Neil Hefti was another jazz artist who barely missed getting another birthday under his belt. Hefti died on October 11th. He was born October 29th. (That's October 29, 1922 – October 11, 2008 if you're the linear type).

Like his jumpy-cadenced colleague Burt Bacharach, Hefti's most creative era was the 60's, when his unique jazz-pop rhythms enlivened many movie and TV soundtracks. Of course the two numbers that leap to mind would be the silly and cartoonishly discordant "Batman" theme and the dippy and splashy theme for "The Odd Couple."

The Omaha-based trumpet player came East to work with Bob Astor's band, Charlie Spivak, a variety of influential be-bop artists, and then Woody Herman's big band on the West Coast. More than playing music, he enjoyed writing it, and creating charts...and early Hefti tunes "The Good Earth" and "Blowin' Up a Storm" were Woody Herman hits. Hefti arranged songs for Woody's girl singer Frances Wayne...and married her.

One reason Hefti's later work would be so fresh and original was that he was absorbing both the new styles of Dizzy Gillespie and the contemporary classical works of Igor Stravinsky. He won the admiration of Charlie Parker who covered a Hefti chart called "Repetition." Parker's stamp of approval helped Neil Hefti join Count Basie in 1950. Several of the Basie-Hefti albums (including "Atomic Basie") are considered jazz classics. Miles Davis even declared that it was Hefti's composing and arrangements that made the Basie band worth hearing. No doubt the hip swing of Hefti-Basie influenced many jazz and pop artists into choosing a more "jumping" brand of arrangement. Frank Sinatra would soon work with Basie and use Hefti arrangements.

There would be various vinyl tributes ("Steve Allen Plays Hefti," "Basie Plays Hefti," "Harry James Plays Hefti") but ironically, Hefti had few hits in the jazz field. The soundtracks were more lucrative and he won a Grammy for "Batman." He also had Grammy nominations for "Girl Talk," a song on the soundtrack of his score for the Carroll Baker movie "Harlow" and for "The Odd Couple."

Below, a retrospective of Neal's pop pallette. You'll find various tunes that may remind you of his contemporary eccentrics like Burt Bacharach and Vic Mizzy...guys who also tended to tilt around with syncopation, zany melody, and near-parodies of pop.

1. ODD COUPLE (with the lyrics! from The Odd Couple)
2. FRAULEIN D-CUP (from Boeing Boeing)
3. Main Title Theme (from Boeing Boeing)
4. LONELY GIRL (from Harlow)
5. WALTZ FOR JEANNIE (from Harlow)
6. SCRAMBLED EGGS (kicky instrumental from Harlow)
7. CARROLL BAKER A-GO-GO (from Harlow)
8. OH DAD POOR DAD (vocal version, from Oh Dad Poor Dad...)
9. SPOOKY COFFINS (harmless funeral march from Oh Dad Poor Dad...)
10. SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL (Fran Jeffries vocal from the film)
11. HOW TO MURDER YOUR WIFE (vocal, from the film)
12. BATMAN radio tie-ins (J.C.Penny ad and WPCG disc jockey rip-off)

A Dozen HEFTI Pieces

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