Friday, October 17, 2008

He Made a "Hefti" Contribution to Jazz (and Television)

I meant to blog about this the day it happened, and then other things got in the way. But I would be remiss in failing to mention the passing of Neal Hefti, a journeyman jazz trumpeter who made a much more lasting impression with his composer's pen for Count Basie, Frank Sinatra and others. Think of a Basie classic from the '50s and beyond, and if Sammy Nestico didn't write it, Hefti probably did. "Splanky," "Li'l Darlin'" and "Cute" come to mind; in fact, he wrote every tune on the 1957 album that we now know as The Compete Atomic Basie.

But to most people outside the jazz realm, Hefti wasn't known for any of the above. He's known for this:

As noted in the article above, Hefti always joked that, with the word "Batman" repeated over and over again, he should have been credited with writing the "music and lyric"--singular--for this theme. Heh. (And the ironic thing is that, no matter how much he's revered in the jazz world for "Splanky" and the like, this 43-second composition probably paid for his house.)

And here's a full version of the song. The video's a still, but it includes a solo section, which I didn't know existed until a few months ago, when I found the video for a friend who had no idea that this theme came from the same pen as the author of so many Basie classics.

I saw the Batman show before I ever heard any Basie, but I recognized the name immediately. But unlike some composers who "sold out" for television, Hefti stayed true to his art; the Batman theme is a 12-bar blues with horns, vocals and thick jazz harmonies, while his second-most-famous theme, The Odd Couple, is a happy, bouncy swing tune. On rare and happy occasions, art and commerce can mix and actually elevate both of them in the process.

R.I.P., Neal. No matter how people remember you, your music touched a lot of lives. Your contribution will not soon be forgotten.

No comments: