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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Theater US & Canada Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Seth Rogen Unveils New Christmas Movie — ‘Will Open on Thanksgiving, Made by Jews’ (VIDEO)

    Famed actor Seth Rogen on Tuesday unveiled with typical comic fanfare the trailer for his new Christmas film. The movie “was made by Jews… and opens on Thanksgiving,” Rogen pointed out on Twitter. The Night Before tells the tale of three “ride or die homies” celebrating one last debauchery-filled Christmas Eve reunion before they become too busy to keep up their annual tradition. In an effort to make the night as memorable as possible, they set out to find the “Nutcracka Ball – the […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    Art Can Inspire Faith; It Can Also Empower Destructive Ideologies

    A June 2015 art exhibit, “The Transformative Power of Art,” at the United Nations headquarters in New York City, harnessed the universal language of art to convey an important message: “Our fragile Mother Earth faces the devastating consequences of climate change, a defining challenge of our time.” The exhibit also included sixteen portraits of people from all over the world who have “contributed to the common good of humanity in one way or another and have transformed the way we […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Sports Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    Israeli Muslim Cage Fighter Says He’s Proud to Fight Under Jewish State’s Flag

    A 32-year-old Circassian Israeli Muslim Mixed Martial Arts fighter from Abu Ghosh says he takes pride in fighting under the Israeli flag, Israel’s Walla reported on Sunday. Like most Circassian Israelis, Jackie “the Punishment” Gosh was born Sunni Muslim. He became observant about eight years ago, and is now scrupulous in following his religion’s tenets, praying five times a day and fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. Gosh is also very proud of his Israeli nationality, and sees no contradiction between […]

    Read more →
  • Israel Music New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    New Mark Skinner Documentary Explores Jewish, Arab Rap Scene in Israel (VIDEO)

    A new documentary explores the lives and work of Jewish and Arab rappers in Israel and how the ongoing conflict in the region has impacted their lyrics, the U.K.’s Jewish Chronicle reported on Thursday. Hip Hop in the Holy Land is a six-part series co-directed by Mike Skinner, the British frontman of hip-hop group The Streets, and produced by Noisey, a music channel published by Vice news. The first episode, published last week, shows Skinner meeting with Tamer Nafar, the founder of one of […]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada 49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    49ers Running Back Jarryd Hayne Apologizes for ‘Hurtful’ Jesus Tweets

    New 49ers running back and Australian rugby star Jarryd Hayne apologized on Wednesday for a tweet in which he raised the age-old myth that Jews were historically responsible for Jesus Christ’s death. Reaching out to his Jewish fans, and the chairman of the B’nai B’rith Anti-Defamation Commission, Hayne tweeted: “To the Jewish community @DvirAbramovich #WeAreAllOne.” Underneath, he keenly included a screenshot of a text message to elaborate on his apology: “I sincerely apologize for my tweets on July 1. I […]

    Read more →
  • Theater Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli Actress Gal Gadot Recalls Being ‘Extremely Surprised’ at Winning Miss Israel Contest

    Israeli actress Gal Gadot reminisced about her childhood in Israel during an interview published in this month’s edition of Vanity Fair. “I don’t remember this, but my mom told me that when I was three they threw a party on the rooftop of the house. They put me to bed, and I heard people coming into the house and no one came to me. I went to the rooftop and took a hose and I started to spray water on everyone, just […]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Features Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    Wounded Israeli Soldiers Unite With American Veterans to Help Their ‘Brothers for Life’ Heal (INTERVIEW)

    An Israeli organization is helping wounded U.S. veterans move past their physical and psychological challenges by connecting them with injured Israeli soldiers who understand what they’ve been through. “What we discovered very early is that there’s no ‘professional, psychiatrist, social worker’ or anything like that [or] pills that can come even close to helping a soldier who fought in combat, who was wounded, who lost his friends. No one can help him like another person who’s been through exactly what he has,” Rabbi Chaim Levine, […]

    Read more →
  • Relationships World Researchers Say Women Less Likely Than Men to Kill Hitler, if They Could Travel Back in Time

    Researchers Say Women Less Likely Than Men to Kill Hitler, if They Could Travel Back in Time

    Women are less likely than men to want to kill Nazi leader Adolph Hitler if given the ability to travel back in time, a recently published research paper revealed. The paper analyzed 40 studies involving 6,100 respondents in a time-travel thought experiment, the New York Post reported on Friday. While 60 percent of men said they would theoretically be willing to kill Hitler, only 55 percent of women said they would be comfortable doing the same. The paper was published in the Personality and […]

    Read more →