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MELISSA BLOCK, host:

If the name Neal Hefti is not familiar, the names of some of the people he worked for will be: Frank Sinatra, Count Basie, and Batman. Hefti was a musician, composer, and arranger. He died Saturday at his home in California, just shy of his 86th birthday. NPR's Felix Contreras has this story of Hefti's musical career.

FELIX CONTRERAS: Neal Hefti started as a trumpet player - by his own admission, not a great one. His real talent was arranging. Arrangers are the people who coordinate all those little black dots on the page into something that sounds like this.

(Soundbite of song "The Good Earth")

CONTRERAS: That's Neal Hefti's arrangement of his tune "The Good Earth" played by Woody Herman's Herd, but it was with another big band that Hefti really made his mark. In the early 1950s, he began a 10-year relationship writing and arranging for Count Basie that produced some of Basie's most memorable music.

(Soundbite of Count Basie music)

CONTRERAS: Basie recorded two albums of Hefti's compositions in the late '50s, then Hefti moved on to work with Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennett, and Judy Garland among many others. In the early '60s, Hefti turned his attention to film and television. His theme song for the film version of "The Odd Couple" was heard weekly when it moved to the small screen. But Hefti said he labored for weeks on a much simpler theme song.

(Soundbite of Batman theme)

CONTRERAS: In 1976, Neal Hefti decided to stop writing music. He retired on ample royalties, mostly from his film and television work, and he spent his last years managing his many song copyrights. Felix Contreras, NPR News.

(Soundbite of The Odd Couple theme)

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