For me, it all starts with the theme to the ‘Mission Impossible’ TV series . Without knowing my jazz from elbow back then, I still instinctively knew this was great music and the exotically named gentleman, who was namechecked on the credits as its creator, had a name I would never forgot.
Take a bow Lalo Schifrin.
Boris Claudio Schifrin was born in June 1932 to a Jewish family living in Buenos Aires, Argentina. He came from a musical background with his father Luis, leading a violin section in the Teatro Colon Orchestra. Young ‘Lalo’ as the family called him, studied piano from the age of six. As he progressed, he also developed a keen interest in jazz and the playing of the of Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk and Dizzy Gillespie especially.
“I was utterly seduced’ said Schifrin. “Just blinded by it – and I embraced it wholeheartedly. I loved the different approaches to melody and harmony, which were very close to the contemporary composers who were my idols – Debussy, Ravel, Stravinsky and Bartok. I didn’t see any difference.’
At 20, he won a scholarship at the Conservatoire de Paris. Before long, it was classical musical by day, and jazz by night, playing piano in the bars and clubs of the French capital, such as the ‘Saint Germain.’
Upon returning home to Argentina, he set up a sixteen piece jazz orchestra and composed for TV, radio and film. A chance meeting with trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in 1955, out there touring with Quincy Jones and Benny Golson among others in his line-up, eventually saw Lalo begin composing and arranging for Diz’s big band, resulting in a recording called ‘Gilespiana’ in 1960.
By then, they had also begun working together in Gillespie’s quintet, with Schifrin on piano.
‘It had to sound like energy, promise, anticipation….’
The film company Metro Goldwyn Mayer signed him up as a composer, and he scored his first feature film ‘Rhino’ in 1963. He moved to Los Angeles and finally became a naturalised American in 1969. Memorable scores poured from his fingers, with that instantly recognisable theme tune for ‘Mission Impossible’ among them.
Film wise there is ‘Cool Hand Luke’ ‘Kelly’s Heroes’ ‘Coogan’s Bluff’ ‘Dirty Harry’ ‘Bullit’ ‘The Cincinnati Kid’ and ‘THX 1138’ for George Lucas.
His musical versality knew no bounds and he was equally at home composing for symphony orchestras such as the London Philharmonic, or arranging for The Three Tenors – Carreras, Domingo and Pavarotti.
He was awarded five Grammy’s and also nominated for 6 Academy Awards, before eventually picking up an honorary one in 2018, in recognition of his long and distinguished career.
When asked , which score he was most proud of, he replied
‘That is like asking a father who his most loved child is. I liked all my scores, I´m very proud of them all.’
As my personal top ten below reveals, it would be a mission impossible choice.
The Mumper of SE5
1. Mission Impossible (original TV theme)
2. Bullitt (main title)
3. Danube Incident
4. Dirty Harry
5. Enter The Dragon –
6. Cool Hand Luke – (main title)
7. Mannix – Main theme
8. Bikini Waltz – The Liquidator ( Tubby Hayes on flute)
9. The Amityville Horror
10. Dr Kildare – Soul Source –
THE SPEAKEASY VOLUME 1
THE SPEAKEASY Volume One by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)
Illustrations by Lewis Wharton
Foreword by Gary Crowley
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