Friday, January 6, 2012

Lalo Schifrin: The Rhythm

Like so many other composers, Lalo Schifrin's career in films has had quite a range.  A staple of the jazz world, Lalo transitioned to film composing, television music, conducting around the world and composing innovative concert works. 

Lalo (Boris Claudio Schifrin) was born in Buenos Aires in 1932.  His father, Luis, was a founder of the Buenos Aires Philharmonic and was a violinist in many orchestras.  It is no surprise he began piano at age 6.  Studying music and law in college, he went to the Paris Conservatoire in 1952.  Back in Argentina, Schifrin formed his own jazz ensemble and met jazz performer Dizzy Gillespie in 1956.  He joined Gillespie in New York and became his musical director and arranger until 1962.  With the group he composed the suites Gillespiana and The New Continent.

In 1963, Schifrin moved to Hollywood and began under contract at MGM.  His first picture for them was Rhino! (1964).  He composed scores for other films like Joy House (1964), and Once a Thief (1965).  Schifrin arranged The Cat from Joy House for Jimmy Smith - that recording winning the 1964 Grammy for Original Jazz Composition.  Throughout this same time, he began work in television.  Notable scores include The Man from U.N.C.L.E. (with main theme by Jerry Goldsmith), the jazz waltz theme to Mannix, and of course the familiar Mission: Impossible.     

During the late 60s, Schifrin continued composing for many feature films, utilizing strong jazz rhythms.  He tended to score a lot of crime films, and thrillers.  In this era we got films like The Cincinnati Kid (1965), Murderer's Row (1966), Cool Hand Luke (1967), the Steve McQueen classic Bullitt (1968) and The Fox (1968).  Both Cool Hand Luke and The Fox were nominated for Best Original Score at the Academy Awards.   

The 1970s featured more hits and examples of his rhythmic gifts and orchestral complexity.  He worked on Kelly's Heroes (1970), George Lucas' feature debut THX-1138 (1970), the classic action film Dirty Harry (1971), Enter the Dragon (1973), the Dirty Harry follow-up, Magnum Force (1973), The Four Musketeers (1975).  In one of the most dramatic scoring situtations, his score to The Exorcist was rejected, which Schifrin called "one of the most unpleasant experiences of my life".  His score to Voyage of the Damned (1977) was nominated for both the Golden Globe and Academy Award.  Other films include Return to Witch Mountain (1978), the bomb The Concorde...Airport '79.  No stranger to nominations, his score to 1979's The Amityville Horror was nominated for both the Golden Globe and Oscar.

His scores for films continued to grow throughout the 1980s and 1990s.  He continued with the Dirty Harry series with Sudden Impact (1983) and The Dead Pool (1988).  He was nominated at the Oscars for Best Original Song for The Competition (1980) and Best Original Song Score for The Sting II (1982).  With 1997's Money Talks, he began a collaboration with director Brett Ratner.  They both hit a new audience with the fun Rush Hour (1998).  They worked together also on Rush Hour 2 (2001) and After the Sunset (2004).  Schifrin even had a cameo as a conductor in Ratner's 2002 film Red Dragon.  (Score by Danny Elfman).  They reunited for Rush Hour 3 (2007), which coincided with Schifrin's 75th birthday.     

Throughout the years, it was not always film that occupied Schifrin's time.  On his Aleph Records label, he has recorded jazz and other varieties of music, including the interesting Jazz Meets the Symphony recordings.  He has conducted around the world, with the world-class symphony orchestras, and been arranger on several recordings for top singers like Placido Domingo. 

Many of his non-film works are jazz inspired, but his orchestral commissions are just as interesting.  They often have an interesting twist, as seen by their titles.  They include:
Variations for Percussion, Strings (1963)
Cantata for the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (1967)
Pulsations for Symphony Orchestra, Jazz Band and Electronic Instruments (1970)
The Trial of Louis XVI - an opera (1989)
Symphony No. 1 (Queen Lili’Uoakalani) (1993)
Fantasy for Screenplay and Orchestra (2003)
Crosscurrents (2010)


The list goes on, with numerous concertos and orchestral works.  He continues to travel around the world, premiering new works and conducting the great orchestras.

His jazz rhythm's certainly influenced his ability to write such memorable and effective action music.  He is a treasure to the music world, even his film work alone would be an achievement. 
There certainly is more to Lalo Schifrin than the theme to Mission: Impossible.

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