Neal Hefti, Jazz Musician and Composer of the Batman Theme, Dies
Musician Neal Hefti died in Los Angeles at the age of 85. An accomplished trumpet player and composer, Hefti is best-known for having written the theme song to the hit 1960s TV series "Batman".
The catchy song was a Top 40 hit and won a Grammy Award in 1966 for best instrumental theme. Although the theme featured a simple chord progression and the lyrics contained just one word, Hefti struggled writing the song.
It was, Hefti later said, the hardest piece of music he ever wrote.
"I tore up a lot of paper," he told Jon Burlingame, author of "TV's Biggest Hits," a 1996 book on television themes. "It did not come easy to me. . . . I just sweated over that thing, more so than any other single piece of music I ever wrote. I was never satisfied with it."
"Batman," he said, "was not a comedy. This was about unreal people. Batman and Robin were both very, very serious. The bad guys would be chasing them, and they would come to a stop at a red light, you know. They wouldn't break the law even to save their own lives. So there was a grimness and a self-righteousness about all this."
Hefti said it took him "the better part of a month" to come up with the theme.
"I was almost going to call them and say, I can't do it," he said. "But I never walk out on projects, so I sort of forced myself to finish."
Hefti's "musical solution to a combined dramatic and comedic problem," Burlingame wrote in his book, "was perfect: bass guitar, low brass and percussion to create a driving rhythm, while an eight-voice chorus sings 'Batman!' in harmony with the trumpets. It was part serious, part silly: just like the series."
In addition, Hefti composed music for films such as "Harlow" (which featured “Girl Talk,” one of his best-known songs), "How to Murder Your Wife," "Barefoot in the Park," and “The Odd Couple,” which was later used in the 1970s TV series.
Prior to working in Hollywood, Hefti was an accomplished jazz trumpeter and arranger, having worked with the likes Woody Herman, Frank Sinatra, and Count Basie. Hefti's song "Lil' Darlin'" is considered a jazz standard, having been recorded by Basie and dozens of other jazz artists.