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Eminence gris maestro Lalo Schifrin basks in spotlight

Music for Screens: Summer 2012

Despite having turned 80 in June, Lalo Schifrin shows no signs of slowing down: He will be honored at two festivals in Europe in October, has a four-CD career retrospective due for release, has written a book, and is the subject of a documentary.

The composer of “Mission: Impossible,” “Cool Hand Luke,” the “Rush Hour” films and more than 100 others is working on a large-scale classical commission. “But if the right movie comes along, I’ll do it,” he tells Variety.

Composer is profiled in an hourlong documentary, “In the Tracks of Lalo Schifrin,” by French filmmaker Pascale Cuerot (who has previously done bios of Maurice Jarre, Georges Delerue and Gabriel Yared). It will premiere Oct. 16 at France’s Grand Lyon Film Festival.

He then flies to Vienna, where he will be honored during the Hollywood in Vienna festival, including a symposium Oct. 19 and a concert Oct. 22. David Newman will conduct such Schifrin favorites as “Dirty Harry,” “Bullitt,” “Enter the Dragon” and “Mission: Impossible,” and Schifrin will be presented with the fest’s Max Steiner Film Music Achievement Award.

“Lalo Schifrin is one of the most versatile musicians of our time, equally at home conducting orchestras, performing as a jazz pianist, or writing and arranging music for film, classical concerts and jazz,” says Hollywood in Vienna producer Sandra Tomek. “He is a living legend.”

That overused phrase really does apply to the Buenos Aires-born composer. His classical training combined with his passion for jazz first got him noticed in the late 1950s, then found a home in American movies and TV in the 1960s and ’70s.

All of it will be showcased in a four-CD box, “Lalo Schifrin: My Life in Music,” to be released Nov. 15 on the composer’s own Aleph label. It includes tracks from three dozen Schifrin films (including previously unreleased music from “Coogan’s Bluff,” “The Beguiled,” “Charley Varrick” and “Joe Kidd”) plus numerous jazz and symphonic pieces.

Producer Nick Redman, who has overseen several Schifrin albums and will moderate the Vienna symposium, cites “his incomparable playing, his one-of-a-kind arrangements, his own vast horde of uniquely flavored jazz albums, combined with his continued reinventions that make listening to anything he did in the last 50-plus years as fresh and vital as it was the minute it was laid down on tape. That’s the hallmark of a giant.”

In the meantime, the prolific composer has written his second book (he penned an autobiography in 2008), “Music Composition for Film and Television” for Berklee Press. Aimed at aspiring film composers, it’s filled with practical advice and musical examples from Schifrin’s long career.

Reflecting on that career, he cites several key moments: studying at the Paris Conservatory in the early 1950s; meeting Dizzy Gillespie, who later asked him to join his band; being mentored by Universal TV music chief Stanley Wilson; working with film directors Stuart Rosenberg (“Cool Hand Luke”) and Don Siegel (“Dirty Harry”); and conducting his “Cantos Aztecas” in 1988 at the pyramids of Teotihuacan, Mexico.

Schifrin says he appreciates the tributes, although he confesses, “I still don’t understand why I’m such an object of attention. I remember when I was admiring other people — Stravinsky, Bartok, Charlie Parker, Thelonious Monk — and I would make them objects of homage. In a way, they inspire me to keep going.”

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