Saturday, November 1, 2008

Legendary Nebraska musician dies

Native Nebraskan Neal Hefti has died. Born in Hastings in 1922, Hefti won fame as an arranger for a wide variety of big bands during the 1940s and 50s, including Charlie Spivak, Woody Herman, Charlie Barnet and Harry James. He died Saturday (Oct. 11) at his home in Toluca Park, California.

An accomplished trumpet player, it was really Hefti’s composing and arranging that won him the adoration and respect of top-flight musicians ranging from Frank Sinatra to Count Basie. He was also a conductor and worked with the likes of Doris Day, Tony Bennett, Mel Torme, and Sinatra.

Without a clue to his roots, I remember playing a lot of Neal Hefti recordings on KCSR in Chadron, Nebraska in the 1950s. I often wondered if Neal was related to Paul Hefti, a Chadron banker – not an altogether wild assumption, since Hefti is a rather unusual name, and they both had Nebraska roots. I never found out. (NOTE: Paul Hefti's son, Marvin, responds that he does not believe Neal Hefti and Paul Hefti were closely related, if at all - 11/1/08)

Neal Hefti’s name graced a bevy of big band, standards, and jazz albums in those years. But probably his most popular works were the theme songs for the hit television series "The Odd Couple" and "Batman."

My favorite Hefti composition was a lumbering jazz ditty entitled Li'l Darlin’.

Neal Hefti was 85 years old.