[Interview - Lalo Schifrin]

Lalo Schifrin has been working in Hollywood for over 40-years.  In that time, he has garnered six Academy Award nominations, three Golden Globe nominations, a Grammy Award, and more.  He created the classic "Mission: Impossible" theme, and has also worked on such films as Enter the Dragon, Cool Hand Luke, Bullitt, THX 1138, Dirty Harry, and The Amityville Horror.  A few years back, he had a phenomenal hit with Rush Hour, and is back again this year with the sequel, Rush Hour 2.  In addition to his film work, Schifrin also conducts worldwide, writes jazz pieces, concert pieces, and has arranged music for the Three Tenors.  SoundtrackNet had a chance to talk with Schifrin during a short break in his busy schedule.

Being a sequel, how similar are the scores to Rush Hour 2 and Rush Hour?

The music for Rush Hour 2 is completely different from Rush Hour.  The first 20-30 seconds of the main title is a reprise of the music from Rush Hour - but that's it.  This time I wanted to do a symphonic score.  In fact, for Rush Hour, director Brett Ratner asked me to write the Enter the Dragon of the 1990s.  For the sequel, he asked me to do a symphonic score.  It was bigger than life - like an epic score.  I ignored the comedy - the actors took care of that.  I played to the chases and the danger.  It's a serious score in the sense of an "epic" score, like Raiders of the Lost Ark or an Errol Flynn film.  Also, you must realize that the symphony orchestra allows many more possibilities.  Mozart didn't need a rhythm section to "drive".  I was able to create a lot of energy without the use of drums and electric guitars and all that.  For me it was more refreshing that going back to Enter the Dragon and doing the same score, and then to go back to Rush Hour 2 and do the same score I did in the first one, it wouldn't have been fun for me.

Would you do Rush Hour 3?

Oh, I'm not a prophet!  You know, I cannot predict the future - for that you have to see a clairvoyant.

You recently received a BMI award for your " Mission : Impossible" theme. How do you think the success of that theme has affected your career?

Well, in a positive way!  <laughs>  It gave me some kind of visibility.   The fact that the rock groups in Mission: Impossible  and Mission: Impossible 2 came with their own versions of the theme is very satisfying to me because I can see that the newer generations like that theme, and they embrace it - it's like a bridge across time.  I'm a bit older than they are; I was young when I wrote it, but I still keep my mind young - and this helps to rejuvenate me.

Was the addition of lyrics to the theme a good or a bad thing?

No, no, it's all positive! The fact that they like it and they keep doing things to it, it's becoming - I hate to say it, I'm not bragging, but it's becoming a classic!  It's timeless - not too much music is timeless.  Usually I'm humble - because I don't take myself more seriously than I am.  I'm quite objective about myself and I know when I do something good and when I do something I don't like, I throw it out.

So what would you say is your best work?

Well, that's like asking a father which is the best baby!  I have so much work not only in film, but in classical music and jazz - I like all of them!

You just released "Intersections: Jazz Meets the Symphony # 5".  You've been doing a lot of jazz albums lately: Brazilian Jazz, The Latin Jazz Suite, and others.  Have you been focusing more on jazz than films?

Well, I've been doing classical music as well. I just finished a commission that came in through Zubin Mehta (the conductor of the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra) from the Sultan of Oman.  So I wrote "Symphonic Impressions of Oman" that I'm going to record with the London Symphony in October of this year.  I'm conducting, mixing, and producing the record.  It will probably be released through Deutsche Grammophon.

What other classical pieces have you done lately?

Well, I wrote Cantos Aztecas: Songs of the Aztecs for Placido Domingo.  It's a cantata for soprano, contralto, tenor, bass, chorus, mixed chorus, and symphony orchestra.  I have a Concerto for Guitar that came out also - it was recorded twice.  First on EMI with Angel Romero and the London Philharmonic, then many years later (a few years ago) I recorded it with the same orchestra in the same place (Abbey Road) and a different guitarist - Juan Carlos Laguna from Mexico.

So you've been doing jazz, classical, and film music.  Anything else?

No, those are the three main things.  But I'm planning on coming back to films, and working on more movies.  I'm a little tired of traveling.  I'm not going to give up my conducting work - I'm conducting a lot and performing jazz at the different festivals, but I'm traveling a lot in Europe, and the Orient, and South America - it's very taxing!  I like the medium of films.  Music is the art of combining timings - they say it's the art of combining sounds, but for me it, it's where I'm going to be such-and-such a day in such-and-such a month.  I'm looking at my calendar and it's quite frightening!

You need a vacation!

I am actually going very soon to Hawaii.

Oh - also, I recorded recently a Jazz record that is coming out in January/February - "The Return of the Marquis de Sade".  Many years ago, I had success with a record I did for Verve called "Marquis de Sade", on vinyl.  They did a limited release on CD, and it sold out.  So that gave me the idea to do the "Return of the Marquis de Sade".  I'll put it out on my record label.

Speaking of your record label, Aleph Records, you've been putting a lot of your older film scores out on that label. Recently, Cool Hand Luke, Bullitt, The Fox, Rollercoaster, and many others.  How do you decide which scores to release?

Well, with the acquisitions that happen in the corporate world - movie companies buying other companies or transforming themselves into other institutions - there are record labels also that have the same problem - but it's even worse!  When I came to Hollywood, most of the big movie studios had subsidiary labels.  Now it's not happening anymore - the subsidiary labels have been sold to other places. So to license the music might have problems.  The first release I put out was Dirty Harry - why?  Because I went to Clint Eastwood himself, and we decided to make a deal, in which we split the royalties - and he gave me the rights right away!

But not everything is easy.  With Bullitt, I had to re-record it - they didn't give me the license.  The same thing happened with The Fox.  With Cool Hand Luke, they have given me the license.  The license belonged to Warner Brothers, but it was recorded by a Paramount label called Dot Records, and that label was bought by Universal!  So in the end, they gave me the rights.  But it depends - I have to play it all by ear, and do what I can.  I'm planning to release more, and I'm waiting for my attorney - he's the one who makes all the deals.  If he can't make them, then I go and re-record it.  Also, in many cases I'm adding cues because the nature of vinyl was shorter - so I'm including cues that weren't included in the original release.

What other projects are you working on?

I've been working without a break for one-and-a-half years, so I'm going to rest.  I have some ideas, though.  Placido Domingo said, "I'm not superstitious because it might bring bad luck".  It's a good line!  I don't like to talk about a project until it happens.  For instance, I can talk about the Oman project because I was commissioned, and I've practically finished it.  I can talk about the "Return of the Marquis de Sade" because I recorded it last week.  I can talk about Rush Hour 2 because I recorded it last month.  I like to talk about things that exist.  But the things that are floating, I have to be absolutely sure that they're going to come out all right.

Sometimes the work of an artist is difficult, because I wish everyone could be like Beethoven.  For an artist it would be nice because they knew their limits, and they were doing all these genial things.  So I try to do good things.  The score that I wrote for Rush Hour 2 is something I'm very happy with - and everybody seems to be pleased with it.  Sometimes I miss - I'm not perfect, but I try my best.  So I'm sorry I can't give you something for the future, I have ideas, and I know more or less what I'm going to do next, but until it's done, I'd rather not talk about it.

That's ok - we look forward to hearing about it when the time is right!  Do you have a dream project?

Well, my wife told me, "Be careful what you dream, because it's going to happen".  So far everything you've heard about have been dreams that became reality.  I go one day at a time, and one step and a time, and one thing leads to another.  People call that "experience", but experience is not enough - you have to have a flame burning that pushes you to do something.  It doesn't come every day, but when it comes, it's fantastic and is a great experience.

Do you write for pleasure?

I don't have the time.  I need to know that it's going to be performed.  It's not a matter of the money, although I'm a professional composer.  We live in a society where remuneration is a symbol of our worth.  Otherwise we wouldn't know if what we do is alright or not.  Basically, I write things that I know will be performed. I know the shape of the orchestra or the ensemble or the chorus or the people that are going to sing it.  I wrote things for Jose Carreras outside of the Three Tenors work I did.  I did things for Barbara Streisand, Diane Warwick, Tony Bennett, Nancy Wilson - they've been recording my songs.  So I like to know for whom I'm writing - it makes part of the composition easier to do.

Lalo Schifrin's score to Rush Hour 2 will be released on Varese Sarabande Records.  Intersections is available in stores now, and you can order it (and other CDs) through his website at

Special thanks to Theresa Eastman and Nikki Du Wick for their help in arranging this interview. Portrait of Lalo Schifrin by Joel Lipton. Rush Hour 2 photos courtesy of New Line Cinema © 2001. Scoring session photo taken by Theresa Eastman.