Neal Hefti » Music » Neal Hefti - The Band with Young Ideas

Neal Hefti


Coral 1954

Composed, Arranged, Conducted by NEAL HEFTI


Coral Reef

Falling In Love All Over Again

In Veradero

It's a Happy Holiday

Lake Placid

Sahara's Aide

Sure Thing

Two For a Nickel, Three For a Dime

Uncle Jim

Waltzing on a Cloud

Why Not?

Young ideas, good ideas, have been an essential part of Neal Hefti’s life almost from the moment it began back in October 1922 in Hastings, Nebraska.

Neal gleaned his first young ideas from his mother, a popular local piano teacher, who insisted that her children (there were four boys and two girls) study piano, to gain a general theoretical understanding of music, before deciding on their individual instrumental destinies. Two of Neal’s older brothers played saxophone, so to fit usefully into the family band, Neal decided on the trumpet. Assiduous devotion to work in Boy Scout and high school bands, as well as spare-time studies of his brothers’ classical record collection – mainly Stravinsky, Ravel and Debussy – let the way to an interest in Glen Gray and Duke Ellington, and in the then young ideas of such gentry as Jimmy and Tommy Dorsey, Count Basie, Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw.

Confident that there was more to his musical future than could be found around Nebraska, Neal set out for the East and at the age of 18 played trumpet in the New York band led by Bob Astor, now a well-known booking agent in New York. After a brief visit to Cuba in a sextet led by alto saxophonist Leslie Lieber, he began his name band career, playing and arranging for Charlie Barnet, Charlie Spivak, Horace Heidt, Bobby Byrne and others around New York.

The Woody Herman band gave Neal his first taste of jazz fame when hi joined the memorable First Herd early in 1944. Although he played trumpet in the band for a while, he made his greatest impact as the composer and arranger of such hits as Wildroot and The Good Earth. It was while he was in the Herman Band that his romance with Woody’s wonderful girl vocalist, Frances Wayne, culminated in marriage.

Although Neal has had plenty of name band experience since the Herman days – first playing and writing for Charlie Ventura’s big band, then settling on the West Coast for a while and writing for Harry James – he has spent most of the past few years rooted in New York, lending his exceptionally versatile writing talent to a variety of ventures that covered everything from television show scores and accompaniment for numerous popular singers to the creation of many original instrumentals for Count Basie and the building of a library for a new band of his own. It was his recording of Coral Reef on August 1, 1951 that established Neal firmly as a recording bandleader.

Side One

Coral Reef, Neal’s first hit instrumental with his own band, was received enthusiastically by critics and fans alike. The voice that became a Hefti trademark on many of his numbers, featuring the baritone saxophone with the trombones, can be heard here in the opening bars. The trumpet work in the second chorus is by Neal himself.

Charmaine was recorded during the period while Neal was touring with an orchestra that included a four-man vocal group, the Cavaliers. Kai Winding is responsible for the trombone contributions at the opening and the closing of this consistently swinging arrangement.

Waltzing on a Cloud again shows Neal’s ability to adapt his pen to the requirements of almost any melodic setting. This waltz has an old-school Viennese quality, with appropriate drumming in the rhythm of that style by Don Lamond. Neal is heard in some fine legitimate-toned open trumpet work.

Lake Placid moves in a gentle, relaxed style at a medium pace, with a repeated figure cleverly used to show that “sweet are the uses of simplicity.” In the second chorus, the tenor sax leads the reed section in some interestingly voiced work against which the rhythm section maintains a consistently impeccable beat.

Two for a Nickel, Three for a Dime has muted trumpets displaying the theme with the trombones and baritone sax again combined effectively. The whole performance is an effective study in both section and ensemble work by a first-class modern dance orchestra.

Why Not?, one of Neal’s most popular original instrumentals, features a splendid piano solo chorus by Billy Taylor, currently a successful leader in his own right. The tempo is bright and the whole performance swings as much as anything in the entire set.

Side Two

Sure Thing is a number originally commissioned from Neal by Count Basie and popularized by both the Basie and Hefti bands. Based on the orthodox 12-bar blues structure, it makes effective use of a “question and answer” technique by the trumpet and trombone sections halfway through, later building up to a dazzling display of repeated riffs by sax and brass sections before the trumpets return to the theme played in Harmon mutes. This is the kind of theme that, as Basie himself has put it, “just can’t help swinging.”

Uncle Jim was dedicated to Jimmy Hilliard, who, at that time, was recording director of Coral. Based on a predominantly single-note theme introduced mainly in unison, it later subjects the motif to a variety of new timbres before building up to an exciting fortissimo finale.

Falling in Love All Over Again will probably rank for many years as Neal’s most beautiful original ballad. Though it has been heard both as a waltz and a foxtrot, Neal gives it the four-four treatment, with trombones introducing the theme and his own trumpet featured in a sensitive performance noted for its beautiful tone and phrasing. The tune was dedicated to Frances Wayne Hefti.

In Veradero is a previously unissued item. Though the Hefti version has never been heard before, the tune may be familiar to some fans, since Neal arranged it for Stan Kenton’s band several years ago. The Hefti band’s treatment is mostly in straight rhythm, with only occasional use of Latin effects.

It’s a Happy Holiday, written by Neal when he had the band working at the Forest Park Highlands in St. Louis, has muted trumpets playing a theme that suggests the title phrase, with punctuations by baritone sax and trombones.

Sahara’s Aide, as you might guess from the pun in the title, is Neal’s treatment of the theme from Scheherazade, treated in a manner at times slightly reminiscent of the Tommy Dorsey Song of India approach, but with the inimitable Hefti touch still unmistakably present. The dramatic percussion effects on this one were contributed by Don Lamond.


As these notes are written, news reaches us that Neal Hefti plans to take time out from his heavy arranging commitments in New York to go on tour again as a leader of his own group. After listening to the twelve consistently fine performances on these sides by “The Band with Young Ideas,” we are sure you will join us in hoping that he will find time to display his young ideas in every corner of the country.

Notes by Leonard Feather