Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 29 October 1922, Hastings NE; d 11 October 2008) Trumpet, piano, composer, arranger. He wrote his first arrangement in high school; he later worked for Charlie Barnet, Earl Hines, Charlie Spivak, Horace Heidt, then joined Woody Herman in 1944, for whom his charts included 'Jones Beachhead' (aka 'Half-Past Jumpin' Time'), 'The Good Earth', 'Wildroot', 'Everywhere' and 'Apple Honey'; he contributed to 'Caldonia' and 'Northwest Passage', and updated 'Blowin' Up A Storm' and the band's theme, 'Woodchopper's Ball'.

He was music director for his wife, Frances Wayne; she had sung with Barnet and Herman, later had her own albums on Epic and Brunswick. Hefti had a charming recording session of his own on Keynote in 1946; a septet including Charlie Ventura, Kai Winding, Tony Aless on piano, Alvin Stoller on drums, and Billy Bauer and Chubby Jackson from the Herman band recorded four sides; Wayne sang on 'Siboney', unreleased for many years.

Hefti wrote for Ventura in 1946 and Harry James '48-9, also Tommy Dorsey and Tex Beneke. He led his own bands from time to time (album The Band With Young Ideas was once on Jasmine UK); on Coral in the early 1950s he had something of a hit with 'Coral Reef' and he wanted to pass it around to other bandleaders such as Billy May, Ralph Flanagan, Ralph Marterie: 'We all thought, ''If you play 'Coral Reef', I'll play, whatever.'' And we could ... instigate some interest in bands.' But his publisher would not even print a cheap lead sheet, so Hefti had to do it himself. He spoke with regret about how the business and the musicians' union did its best to kill what was left of the Big Band Era: Local 802 in NYC decided to allow only local bands to appear at the Paramount Theater, which had been a shrine for bands and fans since 1935; and Hefti could be fined if he allowed himself to be interviewed on a radio station that no longer employed musicians. 'So when I added all this up, I wasn't making any money, got two little kids, I decided to forget about it, very frankly.' Hefti continued to play trumpet until about 1960, but concentrated on studio work and freelance arranging.

Clifford Brown With Strings was recorded in January 1955 with the great trumpet player, arranged by Hefti, and still regarded as one of the best albums of its kind. He wrote for Count Basie 1950-60 for the octet and then the big band, which recorded over 40 of his arrangements beginning with 'Little Pony' '51 and including the classic album The Atomic Mr Basie '57, including 'Lil' Darlin' ', 'The Kid From Red Bank', 'Splanky' and nine others. The Basie band of that period was an excellent ensemble rather than a soloist's outfit; Hefti's charts are extremely well-judged and the records are still selling. Studio work included arrangements for Frank Sinatra's Reprise label; Sinatra sessions in 1962 included some with Basie's band. When he complained that he had not got label credit, Sinatra allowed him to make his own album, called Jazz Pops. He also wrote for Tony Bennett, Doris Day, Mel Tormé and others.

He scored films in the 1960s and '70s, including Neil Simon's Barefoot In The Park and The Odd Couple (both also became TV series), and Last of the Red Hot Lovers. Other films included Duel at Diablo, a Western; Elaine May’s farce A New Leaf, and comedies Sex and the Single Girl, Boeing Boeing and How to Murder Your Wife. For the 1965 biopic Harlow, he and Bobby Troupe wrote the tongue-in-cheek sexist tune, 'Girl Talk'. For the same movie, he wrote 'Lonely Girl', the Bobby Vinton hit. Other TV work included the theme for Batman: the clever title theme of the series was a top 40 hit in 1966 and won him his only Grammy. He said it was the toughest assignment he ever had, because the series was so camp, and he had to come up something catchy that wasn't too stupid.

He had left his work for Herman and Basie behind, but Hefti and Ralph Burns were the most important arrangers in Woody Herman's First Herd; Hefti told Allen Lowe many years later that the arrangers had pushed Woody to modernize the band, sometimes sneaking their new stuff onto the bandstand. Jazz fans will never forget it.