ASCAP Jazz Living Legend Award
Neal Hefti, one of the most accomplished arrangers and composers in jazz, was born in Hastings, Nebraska. By the time he was in high school, Hefti was playing in local territory bands to help his struggling family make ends meet during the Great Depression. He also began to display a talent for writing arrangements. In the early 40s, Hefti began to absorb the influence of bebop master Dizzy Gillespie. After playing in bands led by Charlie Barnet, Charlie Spivak and Horace Heidt, Hefti joined Woody Herman's First Herd in 1944 and found himself in a big band open to bebop. Hefti wrote and arranged two of the First Herd's biggest recordings, "Wild Root" and the "The Good Earth." In 1946 Neal opted to become a freelance arranger, providing charts for Buddy Rich, Billy Butterfield, Charlie Ventura and Harry James. By 1950, Hefti was composing and arranging for Count Basie's celebrated "Second Testament" band, a collaboration that reached its apex with the late 50s Roulette Records albums, Atomic Basie and Basie Plays Hefti, which featured all Hefti arrangements and Neal's originals, "Li'l Darling," "Splanky," "Whirlybird," and "Cute." Hefti branched out into leading his own ensembles, but found his greatest success composing for films and television, where he created the scores for Sex and the Single Girl, Harlow, Boeing Boeing and The Odd Couple, as well as the Grammy-winning TV theme for Batman.