Neal Hefti – Before Batman

It all started when Mrs. Big Geez commented about a particular song that seemed to have lyrics that were endlessly repetitive. I don’t remember what it was, but it did seem to go over and over the same territory way more than necessary. It also got me to thinking about songs that repeat lyrics, and I came up with at least one Grammy-winner that had just one word — the title — repeated again and again: Neal Hefti’s theme for the classic 1960s TV show, Batman.

Hefti, who died in 2008, is probably most remembered for his film and TV work — his theme song for The Odd Couple is another familiar piece. And he was also known for writing breezy and popular jazz instrumentals like “Cute” and “Li’l Darlin,” but his career actually began way back in the days of the big bands.

The Omaha native showed talent even as a teenager, not only as a trumpeter but as a composer and arranger. Graduating from high school just before World War II, he soon found work with some of the biggest of the big bands, including those of Charlie Barnet and Woody Herman. In the post-war years Hefti continued to work regularly as a trumpeter, spending extensive periods with Harry James and Count Basie while also doing more and more composing and arranging. He also led his own band from time to time, often featuring vocals by his wife, Frances Wayne.

Hefti continued to play trumpet and lead groups into the 1950s, recording jazz standards like the one below, but he eventually devoted himself almost entirely to composing for movies and TV. His distinctive touch became a part of the success of dozens of films and programs, including everything from Barefoot In The Park to Duel At Diablo — and his music even showed up on The Simpsons. When he died at age 85, he could look back on a long and successful career.

Neal Hefti Quintet – “It Had To Be You”

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