By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
That avocation marked Schifrin as a double outsider under the regime of Nazi sympathizer Juan Perón, who viewed Jews and jazz with equal suspicion. Schifrin eventually found friendlier pastures in Paris, where he studied music, including African drumming, and where he met bebop founder Dizzy Gillespie, who encouraged his move to New York and installed him in his band for three years.
Schifrin’s jazz career brought him in contact with most of the major jazz figures of the 20th century’s second half. He has amazing memories: Gillespie jumping onto the stage on New Year’s Eve when he heard how Thelonious Monk was re-harmonizing “Auld Lang Syne”; John Coltrane confiding insecurities about negative responses to his half-hour solos.
But in 1963, when he had a chance to raise his profile and fill his coffers by scoring movies, Schifrin moved to Los Angeles, becoming a citizen in 1969. “I rented a house in Coldwater Canyon,” he remembers. “The first morning when I opened the windows, I saw a deer staring at me. And I said, ‘This is not a place to work, it’s a resort.’”
Yet work he did. Schifrin admits that not working has always been harder for him. His concentration has sometimes consumed him to the point that he has walked absently down the street, his mind wrapped in his music, and friends have thought he was snubbing them. Even now, his wife, Donna, won’t let him behind the wheel of a car when he’s beginning a project: “If I’m making a movie, when the ideas are coming I start driving at the speed of the chase scene.”
Films are one thing, but Schifrin’s soul pours out when he plays jazz. He’s just released Ins and Outs and Lalo Live at the Blue Note, half of which was recorded in 1982 with an L.A. quintet, the other half in New York last year on the occasion of his 70th birthday with Grady Tate, Jon Faddis, Dick Oates and Ray Drummond. In his piano playing, you hear his obsession with melody and concision — everything registers, nothing is wasted. You hear his dense, holistic harmonies, which unobtrusively utilize all 12 notes. You hear Latin roots, jazz and blues, all together. And always you hear the swing, which is his essence. He’ll stop swinging only when he stops breathing.
The ultimate professional, Schifrin is also genuinely humble: “When I am told that I am gifted, where is that gift coming from? Somebody gave it to me, and that Somebody is with a capital S.” In a way, perfection is his enemy. “Beethoven, before he died, he didn’t like the first eight symphonies, he only liked the last,” Schifrin observes, speculating that you have to be near death to understand that kind of rigor. “And I hope I’m not there yet. I don’t want to be that perfect.”