Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

At 80, Famed Argentinian Jewish Composer Still on a ‘Mission’

February 6, 2013 2:30 am 2 comments

Lalo Schifrin in concert with the Big Band of the Kölner Musikhochschule on July 7, 2006, in Cologne, Germany. Photo: Alexandra Spürk.

Best known for composing the classic theme to “Mission: Impossible,” Lalo Schifrin believes that 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 said in an interview with 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 Philharmonic.

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 Borges.

“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 with JNS.org.

“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.”

In addition to being able to meet the performers, Schifrin was also given audience with such great conductors as Toscanini, among others. “I was moved by their performances,” recalled Schifrin, who began his own music lessons at the age of 5.

“Piano was my instrument,” he said.

Soon thereafter, 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 said.

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.

“All of them I loved,” Schifrin said. “I listened to records and tired 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 television.

“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 collection.

While 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.

“I must 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.”

Crediting his 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 collection.

“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 set.

“In some cases, I was really surprised what I had written, but in the end, I knew what it was about,” he said.

2 Comments

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Food Spirituality/Tradition The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    The Brewish State: Israel Taps Into Growing Craft Beer Bazaar

    JNS.org – It’s widely known that Israel has penetrated the wine market, with some of its sophisticated Israeli blends surpassing historically excellent wines from areas such as the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. But what about beer? For decades, Israel has offered solely the Maccabi and Nesher brands. Not anymore. “There is a huge push of people making beer at home. The country is approaching over 30 craft breweries in the last year or two, making nearly 200 beers,” says Avi Moskowitz, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Natalie Portman Says She Behaved Like ‘Average Everyday Jewish Mother’ on Set of Latest Movie

    Actress Natalie Portman acted like a typical “Jewish mother” on the set of her latest movie, Jane Got a Gun, the Israeli-born star told the New York Post‘s Page Six on Sunday. The 34-year-old, who also co-produced the western, said she made it her job to look out for everyone involved in the project, because the film has had to overcome “so many obstacles,” such as losing its director early on. She explained: “Actors changed. We suffered financial and legal challenges. We endured so many replacements. There were delays. […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    Scorpions Lead Singer Sends Message to Israel Ahead of World Tour, Tel Aviv Performance (VIDEO)

    “We’re looking very much forward to coming back to Israel this summer,” said the lead singer of the German rock band Scorpions in a video on Monday. “Make sure you don’t miss it because we rock you like a hurricane!” said a jovial Klaus Meine, quoting the band’s seminal 1984 anthem, “Rock You Like a Hurricane.” The hard rock band lands in Israel for a show at the Menorah Mivtachim Arena on July 14 as part of its 50th anniversary tour. It will be the band’s third time […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    The Collected Works of Primo Levi, Edited by Ann Goldstein (REVIEW)

    Primo Levi and Elie Wiesel were the two most immediate and authentic literary voices who gave witness to the Holocaust. Wiesel was an extrovert and a very public figure who wrote initially in French. Levi was a modest retiring chemist who wrote in Italian. Whereas Wiesel was rooted in the Eastern European Jewish Hassidic world, Levi was the product of an assimilated, secular Italian society that saw itself as Italian first and Jewish as an accident of birth. As Levi himself said, “At Auschwitz I […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Lifestyle Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    Wine Brings Judea and Samaria to Tel Aviv

    JNS.org – Wine has long been considered a social lubricant, and it’s Nir Lavie’s hope that wine from his Har Bracha Winery in the Samarian hills will serve as a social lubricant between the city-goers of Tel Aviv and the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria, two locales split geographically, and often politically, on the left and right of the country. The new flagship store of Har Bracha has recently popped its corks on 190 Ben Yehuda Street in Tel Aviv, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Gentile Actor Zachary Levi Says He’s Denied Roles for Being ‘Too Jewish’

    Actor Zachary Levi said casting directors have denied him roles for being “too Jewish,” despite the fact that he is not a Jew, the New York Daily News‘ Confidenti@l reported on Wednesday. “I guess they were looking for more of a corn-fed, white boy look,” he said. “My family is from f****** Indiana! Come on, I’m like dying here!” The Thor star clarified that he is Welsh, and that Levi is actually his middle name, while his real last name is Pugh. He said he […]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Spirituality/Tradition Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    Tracing Chabad’s History and Success (REVIEW)

    The secret of Chabad’s worldwide success is revealed by veteran Chabad shliach (emissary) Rabbi David Eliezrie in his new book, The Secret of Chabad. The Chabad movement was founded by Rabbi Schnur Zalman of Liadi, Belarus, in 1775. Years later it came to the US with the arrival of Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn in 1940, after his escape from Nazi-occupied Warsaw. Upon his arrival in New York, a number of his co-religionists advised him that there was no place for traditional […]

    Read more →
  • Music US & Canada Rapper B.o.B’s New Song Invoking Antisemitism, Holocaust Denial Has Jewish Group ‘Deeply Troubled’

    Rapper B.o.B’s New Song Invoking Antisemitism, Holocaust Denial Has Jewish Group ‘Deeply Troubled’

    A Jewish human rights organization expressed concern on Wednesday over a new song by a popular US rapper that includes lyrics promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories and cites a Holocaust denier, The Algemeiner has learned. The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) was responding to Tuesday’s release of B.o.B’s “Flatline,” the lyrics of which include: “But before you try to curve it, do your research on David Irving; Stalin was way worse than Hitler, That’s why the POTUS gotta wear a Kippa.” Irving is a historian who has questioned […]

    Read more →