- Mission Impossible: My Life in Music
“My decision was made about exploring the relationships of different sounds among themselves, of penetrating the density of chords, and investigating the possibilities of rhythmic combinations. A firm determination started to crystallize about my future in music. It was not an ambition, but rather a need to learn, discover, and expand my musical horizons” (p. 15). Such is the spirit that colors Mission Impossible: My Life in Music, the most recent edition in the Scarecrow Studies in Jazz series and a fascinating portrait of the multifaceted life [End Page 318] of composer, conductor, and pianist, Lalo Schifrin.
Most famous for his iconic theme for television’s Mission Impossible, Schifrin also studied with Olivier Messiaen, worked extensively with Dizzy Gillespie, and factored prominently in the immensely successful “Three Tenors” phenomenon. For Schifrin enthusiasts, the monograph is certainly a welcome addition to the paucity of extended studies of the composer. Jazz and film music scholars will appreciate not only the colorful commentaries on a host of artists—Duke Ellington, Sarah Vaughan, and Quincy Jones to name a few—but also the complete film/television credits, discography, and perhaps most appealing, an accompanying compact disc of selected Schifrin recordings.
After a brief foreword, one learns about Schifrin’s formative years through “Roots and Beginnings.” Subsequent sections— “From Gillespiana to Jazz Meets the Symphony,” “More Jazz,” “Interlude,” “Film,” and “Symphonic Variations”—describe Schifrin’s work in jazz, film, and concert music spheres. The book concludes with a touching tribute to Schifrin’s wife in “Donna” and finds Schifrin contemplating his career thus far in the thought provoking “Finale.” The first appendix contains Schifrin’s film, television, and “Classical” (p. 184) credits followed by a current discography. Following the table of contents, there is also a track listing for the companion compact disc, which provides a sampling of Schifrin’s music. The compact disc enlivens Schifrin’s prose, yet even this multimedia format could have been improved had the authors referred to it within the text when discussing representative pieces.
Those familiar with Richard Palmer’s fine contribution to Oscar Peterson’s autobiography, A Jazz Odyssey: The Life of Oscar Peterson (New York: Continuum, 2002), will notice a similar narrative structure with Mission Impossible: My Life in Music: several brief chapters organized into distinct sections that represent important aspects of Schifrin’s career. Although Palmer follows a basic chronological arc in organizing Schifrin’s story, this sense of time is not necessarily maintained across chapters or within larger parts. While this phenomenon is minor in isolated instances, it becomes disorenting and at times interrupts the generally fluid storytelling.
Set against the backdrop of Peronist Argentina (see pp. 12–14 for a particularly chilling story), Schifrin suggests that his myriad of musical influences began at an early age. While his parents—both accomplished musicians—ensured that young Schifrin remained grounded in the classical canon, he found creative outlets in other ways. Schifrin went to the movies every Saturday with his grandmother and recalled that at age five, “I told my classmates in grammar school that over the weekend I saw a horror movie, but I bet you that without the music it wouldn’t have been so scary!” (pp. 6–7). While it strains belief that such keen musicodramatic insights were uttered by a five-year-old, it is a great story that complements another tale of how soccer and rugby led to Schifrin’s first encounters with jazz (p. 7). Schifrin also listened extensively to Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Thelonious Monk, excelled in his musical studies, and earned admission to the Paris Conservatoire.
While classes at the Conservatoire were integral to Schifrin’s compositional development, his education as a jazz pianist in Parisian nightclubs was equally beneficial to his career. Schifrin connects these experiences effectively by drawing parallels between two separate conflicts in each “school.” By day, Schifrin observed the tension between the avant-garde espoused...