The name Lalo Schifrin is somewhat legendary in many circles. But unlike some legends, his fame isn’t confined to a single genre or group of people. Posing a triple threat to the music scene as a pianist, a conductor and a composer, he is not only versatile in the position he chooses to work in, but in the genre he chooses to present his work in. As if to prove his versatility, Schifrin recently released a jazz album, has been commissioned by the government of Austria to write a piece commemorating the bicentennial of the death of composer Joseph Haydn and is currently collaborating with rapper Snoop Dogg. Oh yeah, and he wrote the Mission Impossible theme.

Despite Schifrin’s busy schedule, when longtime collaborator and friend John Faddis invited him to Chicago to perform Gillespiana and his Latin Jazz Suite with the Chicago Jazz Ensemble at the Harris Theater, he immediately said yes. This wouldn’t be the first time they had performed Latin Jazz Suite together; in fact they’d even released a recording of it in 1999. “We performed this piece in Germany, in France and in England,” Schifrin recounted, “So when he asked me to come perform it again with him, there was no hesitation.” On stage, the two seem nothing but comfortable with each other, sharing a form of camaraderie that Schifrin calls “musical telepathy.”

This is how Schifrin found himself in Chicago on November 2nd, leading the 21-piece ensemble through the five movements of his Gillespiana, a piece he originally wrote in 1958 for Dizzy Gillespie himself, whom Schifrin played with for several years. Schifrin is always quick to give credit to Gillespie for getting him to move to America. “If it was not for this man, I would not be here today,” he says. “I have had many teachers, but only one master.” During Gillespiana, though, Schifrin was the master, with his right hand wagging to the rhythm, seemingly effortlessly giving purpose, life and instruction to 21 men and women. After a brief intermission, Schifrin’s Latin Jazz Suite got an equally impressive treatment.

In the final movement of the piece – “Fiesta” – Schifrin has said that “the whole world dances united for a future in which tolerance, togetherness and spiritual renewal weave the fabric of our aspirations for a better life.” While these are stirring words to describe an equally stirring musical expression, Schifrin says he does not intentionally try to make statements with his music. “I am not a politician. I am a composer, a conductor and a pianist. But music is the universal language, and since I was very young I have been personally attracted to and curious about the music of many cultures and civilizations. And not only the music of today, but of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Renaissance and the Middle Ages. I am curious of different times and different places.” This curiousity shows in his work, where he constantly brings various styles and sensibilities into a cohesive whole.

This sentiment is clearly evident in some of his most recent film work: the soundtracks for the Rush Hour trilogy. Director Brett Ratner has even said that without Schifrin’s work on Enter the Dragon, he probably never would have come up with the original cross-cultural idea for Rush Hour in the first place. Schifrin’s work is so integral to the series that Ratner has stated that the music of Lalo Schifrin is as important to the Rush Hour franchise as Jackie Chan or Chris Tucker. When asked if he would work on a fourth installment, Schifrin chuckles and references Thelonius Monk and his famous response to such questions: “You never can tell.”

One thing you can tell is that Schifrin is not slowing down. At the age of 75, he is still travelling the world and doing what he loves. “I believe in progress,” says Schifrin confidently, “I am always learning more and trying to make progress and augment the amount of knowledge I currently have. I cannot deny that I have, and I say this in a humble manner, a lot of experience. But I am still growing and evolving. We are human beings. We are always changing and rolling along.” With 21 Grammy nominations and four wins, along with six Oscar nominations and his own star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, Schifrin has obviously been evolving in the right direction.

For more information on Lalo Schifrin, visit his homepage
To see his expansive filmography, visit IMDB

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