Thursday, October 16, 2008

Neal Hefti

The great composer-arranger Neal Hefti passed on this week.  

Neal and his work had a profound effect on me and I really appreciated him.  Even though he hadn't really written much during the last couple of decades, it seems like it will be a different world without him in it.

My first exposure to Neal was at age 6 when my parents took me to see the Jerry Lewis film Cinderfella which included an extensive musical sequence with Lewis pantomiming to Hefti's tune for Count Basie "Cute".  (Basie also showed up in the film, but that's another story)

I remember being utterly enthralled by that sequence and the music and kept playing it over and over in my head.  

Then, maybe a year later, my parents took us to dinner at Dad's favorite cousin's, Henrietta.  During the evening she gave me a present.  A record album.  Basie Plays Hefti.  It was the Count Basie Orchestra (New Testament version) playing all Neal Hefti pieces including "Cute".

I had only been playing music for a couple of years at that point.  But, looking back on it, oddly I didn't want to be one of the musicians playing that wonderful music.  I wanted to be the arranger.  I didn't understand concepts like voicing, timbre, and structure yet.  I just wanted to be the guy that wrote that stuff.

In the ensuing years I spent a fair amount of time playing big band music and a lot of Neal Hefti tunes.  Also, as my love for film music grew, I learned a lot of Neal's scores: Sex & the Single Girl, Lord Love a Duck, Duel at Diablo, Batman, Barefoot in the Park, and of course the Odd Couple.

When I first heard the Odd Couple there was just something about the way he voiced the mid and low brass that was so touchinh and sentimental I thought I was going to weep.  It's always been a favorite of mine.

Eventually, I joined Local 47 and got my union card.  They used to give you a thick phone book with all the members' contact info.  Well, they shouldn't have given a teenager one of those. Among the many composers and arrangers I bugged was Neal Hefti who was gracious and willing to answer my technical questions about how to get those sounds out of the trombones and trumpets.  He was very kind to take the time with me.

I wrote a lot for brass bands before I got into the 70's and discovered synthesizers and computers.  

But the influence persists in everything I hear in my head to this very day.

Thanks, Neal, for all the charts and beautiful voicings.  

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