One of the most influential big band arrangers of the 40s and 50s, Neal Hefti's early charts were played by the Nat Towles band in the late 30s. His material was also used by Earl 'Fatha' Hines; however, his first real taste of the big time came when he joined Charlie Barnet in 1942 and then moved into the Woody Herman band in 1944. Both engagements were as a member of the trumpet section, but his writing became steadily more important than his playing. For Herman he arranged many of the band's most popular recordings, including 'The Good Earth' and 'Wild Root', and was co-arranger with Ralph Burns of 'Caldonia'. In 1946 Hefti's charts were among those used by the ill-fated Billy Butterfield big band and by Charlie Ventura's equally short-lived band. In the late 40s he wrote for what was one of the best of Harry James' bands; in the mid-50s, along with Ernie Wilkins and Nat Pierce, he helped to give the Count Basie band the new distinctive, tighter style that led to a wholesale re-evaluation of big band music, especially in the UK. The magnificent Atomic Basie was composed by Hefti and it features among others the classic 'Li'l Darlin" and 'Splanky'. The album remains one of Basie's finest works and Hefti's peak. Another fine album he arranged and conducted was Sinatra And Swinging Brass in 1962.
Throughout the 50s and 60s Hefti was heavily involved in composing for films, including: Sex And The Single Girl (1965), How To Murder Your Wife (1965), Boeing Boeing (1965), Harlow (1965), Synanon (1965), Duel At Diablo (1966), Lord Love A Duck (1966), Barefoot in The Park (1966), The Odd Couple (1968), Last Of The Red Hot Lovers (1972), Won Ton Ton The Dog Who Saved Hollywood (1976) and television (including the well-known yet irritating theme for the legendary Batman television series), and while much of his work in these quarters was geared to the demands of the medium, there were many moments when he was able to infuse his work with echoes of his great jazz heritage. Throughout those years and into the 70s Hefti periodically formed big bands either for club, concert or record sessions. The tradition of precise, disciplined arranging, of which Hefti was one of the more important exponents, continues to make itself heard in the work of Sam Nestico, which has proved immensely popular with college and university bands on both sides of the Atlantic. Hefti died as a result of throat cancer in October 2008.
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