Hefti (October 29, 1922 – October 11, 2008) was an American jazz trumpeter,
composer, tune writer, and arranger.
was born in Hastings, Nebraska, the son of a travelling salesman and a piano
teacher. He took up trumpet at the age of 11, as the Depression was biting hard
on the family's finances. He discovered jazz through his brother John's
collection of Duke Ellington records, and began playing in local bands to bring
in money for the household.
close to Omaha, the young Hefti was inspired by visits there by some of the
leading swing bands of the day. He heard trumpeters such as Dizzy Gillespie
(with Cab Calloway), Harry Edison and Buck Clayton (with Basie).
began writing arrangements for singers while still at school, although his
sight-reading was not good enough to hold down his early professional jobs for
long. But by 1942 he was working in New York with the successful Charlie
Barnet. There, his vivid arrangement of Barnet's popular Skyliner theme hinted
at his potential, and led to a move to Los Angeles with the orchestra of the
trumpeter Charlie Spivak.
1944, on the recommendation of bassist Chubby Jackson, Hefti joined Herman's
First Herd. This was a fast-blossoming outfit, offering more idiomatic variety
and more dedicated enthusiasm than he had so far encountered, since Herman had
a broad grasp of jazz swing, classical music, pop songs, and the beginnings of
bop - with the pianist Burns, who joined at the same time as Hefti, saxophonist
Flip Phillips and trombonist Bill Harris, a particularly shrewd appreciator of
the new idiom.
bop-infused big band became their model. Hefti's five-trumpet part for Caldonia
was a stylistic breakthrough, and its vibrant sound soon attracted
Igor Stravinsky to write a jazz-themed classical piece, Ebony Concerto, for the
band. A cooperative at first, the band came under Herman's ownership from 1945,
and - along with Charlie Barnet's group - became one of the few white big bands
regularly to play black venues, a testament to its dynamism and grasp of the
fundamentals, rather than the mannerisms, of jazz.
In October 1945, Hefti married the band's singer Frances Wayne. The following year
the couple left Herman, with Hefti leaving a raft of innovative material in the
band's book, including the enduringly popular Apple Honey. Hefti then
freelanced for drummer Buddy Rich, saxophonist Charlie Ventura and trumpeter
Harry James. In 1947, sax genius Charlie Parker, having heard a
studio-orchestra performance of Hefti's Cuban-tinged Repetition, transformed it
from a generic Latin smoocher into a piece of real substance.
1950 on, the arranger was crucial to revitalising Basie's orchestra, in a
period in which the big bands were suffering financially and sounding musically
dated. Starting with the up-tempo Little Pony, for the saxophonist Wardell Gray,
Hefti wrote a stream of scintillating works for the Basie orchestra over the
next decade. Miles Davis, rarely hasty with compliments, remarked in 1955 that
the arranger's presence was a significant reason why the Basie band of that era
sounded as good as it did. Hefti produced, as well as arranged, the music on
the Grammy-award winning The Atomic Mr Basie, and the 11 songs are among the
greatest classics of late-period big-band swing, including Splanky, The Kid
from Red Bank and Hefti's dedication to his daughter, L'il Darlin'.
was playing trumpet less as his writing career developed, and though he briefly
led a group to perform his own work from 1952, by the decade's end he had
virtually given up the instrument.
headed the A&R department at Reprise Records in the 1960s, arranging and
conducting the album Sinatra- Basie: A Historical Musical First. His own 1962
album Jazz Pops - featuring some of the Basie classics - was nominated for a
Grammy, but his jazz work was almost entirely superseded by his accomplished,
and often very imaginative, movie-studio achievements. Hefti also enjoyed
substantial commercial success.
He wrote the tongue-in-cheek, unerringly
focused theme for the mid-60s Batman TV show, which became a US chart hit for
the Marketts and a Grammy-award winner. Movies he worked on included Boeing
Boeing and How to Murder Your Wife (both 1965), Barefoot in the Park (1967) and
The Odd Couple (1968).
his wife's death in 1978, Hefti gradually withdrew from active music making. In
later years he concentrated on "taking care of my copyrights". Hefti
died of throat cancer on October 11, 2008, at his home in Toluca Lake,
California, at the age of 85. He subsequently was interred at Forest Lawn -
Hollywood Hills Cemetery. His grave can be found at the Court of Remembrance.The epitaph on the front of the crypt reads
"Forever In Tune". (info mainly from The Guardian)