Best known for composing the classic theme to Mission: Impossible, Lalo Schifrin
says his first composition was commissioned when he was just 15, by a synagogue
in Buenos Aires.
“It was a cantata for a piano, chorus and orchestra
based on one of the segments of the Bible,” Schifrin told JNS.org, noting that
the specific passage was: “Thou shalt not make war anymore.”
In the years
since, the Argentinian Jewish composer, conductor and musician – now 80 – has
composed more than 60 orchestral pieces, including for such dignitaries as the
last monarch of Hawaii and the Sultan of Oman. He has also served as conductor
and musical director for famed international orchestras, including the London
Symphony and Philharmonic, Vienna Symphony, Los Angeles Philharmonic and Israel
Schifrin is also a legendary contributor to the jazz world.
Collaborators have included Dizzy Gillespie (who originally asked Schifrin to
serve as his pianist), Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, Count Basie
and James Moody.
So what can this 20-time Grammy nominee and six-time
Oscar nominee do for an encore? The answer lies in Schifrin’s recently released
four-CD, career-spanning box set.
Lalo Schifrin: My Life in Music, from
Schifrin’s own Aleph Records, includes nearly 75 tracks and features many
previously unreleased takes from such beloved Schifrin scores as the themes to
Coogan’s Bluff and Joe Kidd. From classical to jazz to vocal compositions, this
new compilation offers a window into the creative mind of one of the world’s
most prolific and well-known composers – and hints at what might still come in
the years ahead.
The name of Schifrin’s label is the first letter of the
Hebrew alphabet. Schifrin noted that the name also comes from the title of a
famous short story, The Aleph, by South American literary giant Jorge Luis
“Aleph is the point where all the things in the world get
together,” Schifrin. “My music has many parts – classical, jazz, folk music – so
that is where it all comes together.”
Schifrin reflected on his childhood
in Buenos Aires.
“My father was concertmaster of the Buenos Aires
Philharmonic Orchestra,” he explained, noting that he grew up just steps from
the famed Theatre Colon.
“There was opera and ballet there, too, and he
would take me to the rehearsals, the concerts and the recitals.”
addition to being able to meet the performers, Schifrin was also given audience
with such great conductors as Arturo Toscanini, among others. “I was moved by
their performances,” recalled Schifrin, who began his own music lessons at the
age of five.
“Piano was my instrument,” he said.
Schifrin was granted a scholarship to the Paris Conservatory of Music. It was
there that his musical proclivities expanded out of the realm of classical and
into the world of jazz.
“I started to play more jazz because near the
place where I was living, there were jazz clubs and I met jazz musicians,” he
Schifrin first interest was classical music, but when he discovered
jazz he “became addicted to it.”
“I liked the fact that it was
improvisational,” he said. “I did like to improvise before, but I couldn’t find
a vehicle for it, so it was very appealing to me.”
Among Schifrin’s early
favorites were such giants as Charlie Parker, Gillespie and, as he put it, “all
the modern jazz people” like Miles Davis and George Shearing.
them I loved,” Schifrin said. “I listened to records and tried to copy the
solos, and then I made my own solos.”
Upon his return to Argentina,
Schifrin put together his own jazz band and began to perform on radio and
“That gave me a lot of exposure,” he said, noting that his
first film score gig came from a director who had seen and heard him on
television. That film, El Jefe (The Chief), started Schifrin’s streak of
renowned film scores, many of which are included in his
Schifrin claims to not have “favorite” pieces. “I like
everything I do,” he said, noting that, for any given concert, he does not have
a predetermined set list, preferring instead to “draw from my entire catalog.”
But he has especially enjoyed scoring films for his son, Ryan.
tell you that working with him is very beautiful,” Schifrin said, “because when
I work with him, I am not thinking that he is my son. He is a great director and
I hope he keeps calling me to write for him.”
As he has performed in many
diverse styles, it may be difficult to determine a “Schifrin” sound. Even
Schifrin himself said there is no such thing.
“I do not have a ‘sound,’”
he said. “I do whatever is necessary for the project.”
ability to serve the score to his “open mind” and his “really good teachers,”
Schifrin said that, as with all other creative artists, when he has something to
say, he finds a vehicle through which to say it.
“If I have something to
say,” he said, “music is my way to say it.”
As he has no one “sound” and
has amassed a catalog including hundreds of compositions for everything from
solo piano to jazz trio to symphony orchestra, Schifrin has often had difficulty
finding a vehicle to distribute and organize his copious catalog. That is why he
and his family founded their label, Aleph Records.
“I am active in so
many aspects of music,” Schifrin said. “There was no record company that could
[handle it all].”
With a family supportive of his music, Schifrin had no
trouble allowing his wife, Donna, to suggest the tracks for the new
“She really helped me. Because I have so many things, it was
really impossible for me to start from the top,” he said. “She started and then
gave it to me for approval.”
While Schifrin admits that he was
“surprised” with some of the selections, he gratefully acknowledges those
surprises and all the music he rediscovered in the process of compiling the new
“In some cases, I was really surprised [by] what I had written, but
in the end, I knew what it was about,” he sai