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One of the top jazz arranger/composers of the 1950s, Neal Hefti first wrote charts in the late ’30s for Nat Towles. He contributed arrangements to the Earl Hines big band; played trumpet with Charlie Barnet, Horace Heidt, and Charlie Spivak (1942-1943); and toured with Woody Herman’s First Herd (1944-1946), marrying Herman’s singer Francis Wayne. It was with Herman that Hefti began to get a strong reputation, arranging an updated “Woodchopper’s Ball” and “Blowin’ Up a Storm,” and composing “The Good Earth” and “Wild Root.” He also took a notable solo during a Lucky Thompson session on “From Dixieland to Bop.” However, Hefti soon relegated his trumpet playing to a secondary status (although he played it on an occasional basis into the 1960s) and concentrated on his writing. He contributed charts to the orchestras of Charlie Ventura (1946), Harry James (1948-1949), and most notably Count Basie (1950-1962). For Basie, he wrote “Little Pony,” “Cute,” “Li’l Darling,” “Whirlybird,” and many other swinging songs, often utilizing Frank Wess’ flute in inventive fashion. Neal Hefti also led his own bands off and on in the 1950s, but in later years concentrated on writing for films (including “The Odd Couple,” “Barefoot in the Park,” and “Harlow”) while remaining influenced by his experiences in the jazz world. Hefti passed away at his California home on October 11, 2008, at age 85.
– Scott Yanow, from The All Music Guide to Jazz
Count Basie plays Hefti’s “Li’l Darling”