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...

  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →
  • Relationships US & Canada Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Seniors at Los Angeles Jewish Home Give Witty Dating Advice Ahead of Valentine’s Day (VIDEO)

    Residents of the Los Angeles Jewish Home give dating advice to a young Jewish man in a comedic video posted Monday on YouTube just in time for Valentine’s Day. Jonathan, an associate at the Jewish home, quizzes the senior citizens on an array of topics including having sex on the first date, kissing a girl, who should pay for dinner and whether online dating is a good idea. When the 28-year-old asks a male resident named Lee about his experiences [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Jewish History Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Kutsher’s Documentary an Amazing, and Tragic, Look at the Past (REVIEW)

    Anyone who spent time in the Jewish Catskills hotels – especially those like me, who returned for decades – must see the new documentary,”Welcome to Kutsher’s: The Last Catskills Resort.” Not only will the film transport you back to the glory days of your youth and thousands of memories, but it will also make you long for a world that is now lost forever. I returned to Kutsher’s one last time in the summer of 2009, but by then, the [...]

    Read more →
  • Education Jewish Identity Lifestyle Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    Riding the Wave of Change in Part-Time Jewish Education

    JNS.org – Amid the numerous studies and analyses regarding Jewish American life, a simple fact remains: part-time Jewish education is the most popular vehicle for Jewish education in North America. Whenever and wherever parents choose Jewish education for their children, we have a communal responsibility to devote the necessary time and resources to deliver dynamic, effective learning experiences. The only way we can do this is by creating space for conversations and knowledge-sharing around innovative new education models. That also [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.