Boris Claudio Schifrin was born into a musical family in Argentina, where he father played violin at the Teatro Colon for the Philharmonic Orchestra of Buenos Aires. It was not the violin young Boris would take a fancy to, but the piano, which he started playing at the age of six. His piano instructor was Enrique Barenboim, father of concert pianist Daniel Barenboim.
There must have been a practical side to the teenage Schifrin, who was studying law and sociology at the University of Buenos Aires when his application to the Paris Conservatoire was accepted. Among his teachers was Olivier Messiaen. In spite of all his formal music training, Schifrin’s real love was jazz, and he soon became a fixture of the Paris club circuit.
Shortly thereafter, he returned to Buenos Aires and started his own band. Much to his good fortune, Dizzy Gillespie was in the house and asked him to be his arranger and pianist. By 1960, Schifrin was living and working New York, playing piano in Gillespie’s quintet. Other notables with whom Schifrin performed were Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Stan Getz, and Sarah Vaughan.
In 1963, MGM contracted him to compose the score for Rhino! Thus began the illustrious film and television career of Lalo Schifrin. Although he is best known for his theme to Mission Impossible, Schifrin has scored more than one hundred TV shows and films, including The Amityville Horror, Bullitt, The Cincinnati Kid, Coogan’s Bluff, Cool Hand Luke, The Dead Pool, Dirty Harry, Enter The Dragon, The Four Musketeers, Kelly’s Heroes, Magnum Force, The Osterman Weekend, and Sudden Impact. His television credits include Ben Casey, Dr. Kildare, Mannix, Medical Center, Planet of the Apes, and Starsky and Hutch. He also composed the Paramount Television jingle, which they used off and on for about seventeen years. The “Tar Sequence” from Cool Hand Luke became a staple of evening news broadcasts on WABC-TV in New York and WLS-TV in Chicago.
In 1988, he was awarded BMI’s Lifetime Achievement Award and his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. Despite these accomplishments, he has not let himself be pigeonholed as a film and TV composer. He has also contributed greatly to classical and jazz, having written over sixty concert pieces, many of them combining the two genres. The most recent of these is Jazz Meets The Symphony #6, part of an ongoing, Grammy-nominated series.
In 1987, the Paris Philharmonic Orchestra appointed him Musical Director, a post he held for about five years. He was partially responsible for bringing The Three Tenors together, at the World Cup Finals in 1990. His “Concerto for Guitar and Orchestra” was recorded by Angel Romero and the London Philharmonic, one of the many orchestras Schifrin has conducted. His “Piano Concerto No. 2” was conducted by Mstislav Rostropovich, with Cristina Ortiz as soloist, along with the National Symphony Orchestra, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., on 11th June 1992. He was instrumental in the production of the popular Christmas in Vienna special, arranging the music for Jose Carreras, Natalie Cole, and Placido Domingo. It first aired on 23rd December 1995 and continues to be a holiday favourite.
As a conductor, he has worked with the London Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Philharmonic, and the Vienna Symphony Orchestra, among others.
He has won five Grammys, six Oscar nominations and a special BMI award for the oft-used Mission Impossible theme, which was announced would be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2016. He continues to tour in support of his Jazz Meets the Symphony series, and lives with his wife Donna in Beverly Hills in what used to be Groucho Marx’s mansion. They have been married for over thirty years and have three children, Frances, Ryan and William, and their own recording label, Aleph Records.
Schifrin’s music has been introduced to a new audience in an unlikely fashion, as an oft-sampled composer in the hip-top and trip-hop genres: His “Danube Incident” appears in both Heltah Skeltah’s “Prowl” and Portishead’s “Sour Times”.
Lalo Schifrin recordings
All for the Love of Sunshine (Lalo Schifrin)
Theme from “Medical Center” (Lalo Schifrin)
Love Rhapsody from “The Concorde – Airport ’79” (Lalo Schifrin)
Theme from “The Concorde – Airport ’79” (Lalo Schifrin)