Soundtrack music is something that most of us take for granted, but it’s vital to the mood and pacing of a film. It also has to do its job while not distracting from the action on the screen, even though in some cases the music might be better than what you’re watching. It’s not surprising that some of the most talented composers of all time have worked in movies and TV, and a list of the best would have to include Lalo Schifrin.
The Argentine-born Schifrin’s most familiar piece is probably his iconic theme song from TV’s Mission Impossible, but the Grammy winner’s long career includes providing music for dozens of well-known TV shows and movies. Included among them are Dirty Harry, Bullitt, Cool Hand Luke, Enter the Dragon, and all three Rush Hour movies.
The son of a symphonic violinist, Schifrin grew up in Buenos Aires and was classically trained as a pianist. In the 1950s the young musician continued his education in Paris, where he also began to gravitate to the world of jazz. Eventually returning home, he spent some time as an arranger for Xavier Cugat while exploring his Latin music roots, before ending up in the US, where he would occasionally team up with jazz stars like Dizzy Gillespie.
His association with Gillespie would be revisited from time to time, and even though the records they generated were sometimes dismissed by purists, they were definitely an echo of what would become the Schifrin sound. (You can hear one below.)
Working mostly in New York and Hollywood, Schifrin would go on to build a long career as an award-winning composer, arranger, and orchestra leader. In fact, he is still active today, moving effortlessly among his many musical interests, including jazz, classical music, and that familiar but always enjoyable ‘Mission’ song.