The extraordinary career of Argentine-born pianist, composer and conductor Lalo Schifrin, 80, brings to mind the story of the blind men and the elephant. For many jazz fans Schifrin is the pianist of Dizzy Gillespie’s quintet from 1960 to 1962. Discovered in Buenos Aires, he moved to New York in 1958, and while he remained with Gillespie for a relatively short time he contributed two major pieces to his repertoire: Gillespiana, a remarkable portrait of the trumpeter in a five-movement suite, and The New Continent, a three-movement suite recorded in 1962. For others Schifrin is a television and film composer best known by his theme for Mission: Impossible.
But as this four-CD collection reminds us, he also wrote the soundtracks for iconic movies such as Dirty Harry, Cool Hand Luke, Bullitt and Coogan’s Bluff. Then again, classical music aficionados might claim him based on works such as Letters From Argentina or Metamorphosis, pieces blending jazz, popular and classical elements, or his Jazz Meets the Symphony albums.
Keeping that often-astounding range and variety in mind, the My Life in Music collection offers a smartly selected sampling of Schifrin’s work. There is much to note here: Ray Charles singing on the propulsive “The Cincinnati Kid,” the action-packed “Tar Sequence” track from Cool Hand Luke, the oddly gentle music for Robert Redford’s Brubaker and, of course, the theme from Mission: Impossible. But there is also the driving, explosive “Panamericana,” from his Gillespiana suite, and his dance-floor-ready “Montuno,” from his Latin Jazz Suite, and the expressive “Tango del Atardecer” from Letters From Argentina (also from the score from Carlos Saura’s film Tango).
The selections reach back to the mid-1960s and extend into the 2000s and, for the most part-especially the examples of film music-are short. The longest pieces come from his more personal work, such as “Toccata,” from Gillespiana, or “Resonances,” from his ambitious large work Esperanto. All this is to say that even after four CDs and 73 tracks, My Life in Music is just a sampler of Schifrin’s work.
Traversing these different musical worlds requires more than an open mind, some nimble pencil work and bag full of sources. As My Life in Music shows, Schifrin managed to reconcile the demands of an often-middling craft such as television and film composing and his purely creative impulses to create a substantive and often startlingly body of work.Originally Published