Written by Grant Jackson from NPR
Composer, arranger, conductor and pianist Lalo Schifrin has written some of the most famous music in ﬁlm and TV history. His works include the original Mission: Impossible theme and the scores to Cool Hand Luke and the Dirty Harry ﬁlms. On this page, Schifrin performs his tune “Down Here on the Ground” and joins host Marian McPartland for a duet of “Woody’n You.”
Born in 1932 in Buenos Aires, Schifrin began piano study with Enrique Barenboim (the father of the pianist and conductor Daniel Barenboim) at age 6. As a teen, he discovered jazz, and at 20, he was awarded a scholarship to the Paris Conservatoire. While there, he attended Olivier Messiaen‘s classes and studied with Charles Koechlin, a disciple of Maurice Ravel. Schifrin also played piano in jazz clubs around Paris, and joined tango master Ástor Piazzolla to represent their country at the International Jazz Festival.
Upon returning to Argentina, Schifrin led a 16-piece band that became part of a popular weekly variety show on television, and began accepting other film, TV and radio assignments. In 1956, Schifrin met trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie and offered to write an extended work for Gillespie’s big band. The result, Gillespiana, was completed in 1958. A few years later, Schifrin rejoined Gillespie as the pianist in his quintet.
In 1963, Schifrin composed his first Hollywood film score, for MGM’s African adventure Rhino! He then rearranged the theme to the popular NBC series The Man From U.N.C.L.E., altering original composer Jerry Goldsmith’s theme with the addition of flutes and exotic percussion. The reworked theme won the Emmy for Best TV Theme in 1965. One of Schifrin’s most widely recognized compositions is the theme to the long-running TV series Mission: Impossible, written in 5/4 time. His other TV scores include Mannix, Planet of the Apes, Starsky & Hutch and Chicago Story.
Originally broadcast on April 5, 1997.