The Caped Crusader's Composers: Neal Hefti - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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The Caped Crusader's Composers: Neal Hefti

Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da, Chris Morley goes back to the Batcave...
Join us as we begin a delve through the Batcave's music room with a look at the life & career of probably the best- known composer connected with Bruce Wayne's heroic career, at least on the small screen that is. Born on October 29 1922, Neal Hefti was the man behind the famous theme tune to the Batman TV series of the 1960s, whose true genius arguably lay in its sheer simplicity.

Using a simple twelve-bar blues chord progression and chants of “Batman!!” as supplied by the Ron Hicklin Singers he created the universally recognised theme that has lived on far longer than the Adam West Batman TV series did. One of the singers is said to have scribbled "word and music by Neal Hefti" onto his own copy of the sheet music he was given as a joke! And as we know deep down you really, really honestly actually want to, why not sing along?
Batman, Batman, Batman
Batman, Batman, Batman, Batman
Batman, Batman, Batman
Batman, Batman, Batman, Batman
Batman, Batman, Batman
Batman, Batman, Batman, Batman
Batman, Batman, Batman
Batman, Batman, Batman, Batman
Batman, Batman, Batman
Da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da da
The man marshalling them would recall that the eight chosen singers“sang in perfect unison, not octaves apart . The tenors were up there screeching, so they sounded like boy sopranos.”. An offer to separate the vocal tracks so that series producer William Dozier could play around with or eliminate them entirely if he so chose was made, “but he liked the idea” and so the choral effect stayed in place.

It really actually is that simple, though Adam West would perhaps mischievously suggest in his book Back To The Batcave that the theme was entirely instrumental....
“Everyone was talking or writing about us, wanting an interview, trying to understand and explain the appeal, raving about the innovative camerawork — tilted angles for bad guys — or the lavish sets or Neal Hefti’s catchy jazz score. Old pals would call to congratulate me and also to ask, “Are those horns or voices saying ‘Batman’ during your theme song?” (They were horns.) “
For Hefti himself, though, it was more a case of da da da da da da da, jazz-man! He first picked up a trumpet at the age of eleven and by the time he got to high school he was playing in bands in part to help provide an income for his family. Just two days before he was due to graduate, Neal accepted an offer to join the band of Dick Barry, but lasted just two gigs as it quickly became apparent that he struggled to sight-read music. But he could write it! As drummer Shelly Manne remembered...
“We roomed together. And at night we didn't have nothing to do, and we were up at this place — Budd Lake. He said, "What are we going to do tonight?"

I said, "Why don't you write a chart for tomorrow?" Neal was so great that he'd just take out the music paper, no score — trumpet part — trumpet part— trombone part, and you'd play it the next day.

It was the end. Cooking charts. I never forget, I couldn't believe it. I kept watching him. It was fantastic.”
Yet for all the time the two played together in the band of Bob Astor, Hefti gave himself over solely to trumpet. It wasn't until 1944 and a meeting with Woody Herman, himself a band-leader, saxophonist & clarinettist, that Neal considered himself a true jazz fan, and joined Herman's then-band, the First Herd.
“I would say that I got into jazz when I got into Woody Herman's band because that band was sorta jazz-oriented. They had records. It was the first band I ever joined where the musicians carried records on the road... Duke Ellington records... Woody Herman discs and Charlie Barnet V-Discs... That's the first time I sort of got into jazz. The first time I sort of felt that I was anything remotely connected with jazz.”
And Hefti would go on to be the driving force behind the band's later embrace of bebop once he got a start in arrangement, as recalled by First Herd bassist Chubby Jackson.
“Neal started to write some of his ensembles with some of the figures that come from that early bebop thing. We were really one of the first bands outside of Dizzy [Gillespie]'s big band that flavoured bebop into the big band — different tonal quality and rhythms, and the drum feeling started changing, and that I think was really the beginning of it...I fell in love with it, and I finally got into playing it with the big band because Neal had it down. Neal would write some beautiful things along those patterns.”
Neal would get his shot at leading a big band under his own name in the early Fifties, though he would later concentrate on conducting and scoring music, which led to the job on Batman and eventually a successful 1966 single release for its theme. The theme tune would go on to be covered multiple times, perhaps most famously by the Who on the reissued A Quick One (having originally appeared on an EP, Ready Steady Who), and the Jam on In The City.

Earlier than both of those, though, are versions by the Marketts, the Ventures, the Standells and Jan & Dean on their album, Jan & Dean Meet Batman, the final release by the dynamic duo of William Jan Berry & Dean Ormsby Torrence prior to a nasty car accident for Jan, though he survived and would die many years later, in 2004.

Just two years prior to Jan's sad passing, even the hip-hop community couldn't resist a piece of the Bat-action and so we got Snoop Dogg sampling Hefti's work for Batman & Robin alongside Eminem's Without Me, the video leaning on a DC Comics-ish visual style. Check out the panels below, and the nods to the Batman series as the man born Marshall Mathers steps into Burt Ward's shoes as Robin, or a sort of Rapboy equivalent for him.

Hefti received three Grammy nominations and won one award for his Batman television score. After which, his theme for The Odd Couple movie was reprised as part of his score for the television series of the early 1970s, which led to another two Grammy nominations. A jazzier version of that theme was used in the 2015 update, which came long after Hefti had withdrawn from active music making. That occures in 1978, following his wife's death. In later years, he concentrated on "taking care of my copyrights", passing of natural causes on October 11, 2008, at his home in Toluca Lake, California, at the age of 85.

Next time we hop into the Batmobile for a look at the work of much more recent Caped Crusader Composer...

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