Over the past eight years, the Film Music Foundation has been interviewing composers and others active in the movie-music business — getting down their life stories, their career anecdotes, their thoughts about this curious profession. I have been privileged to conduct many of these, and the Foundation (as part of its educational initiative) has now made them available online. Visit the website here — but be ready to spend a lot of time there, because most of these interviews are between two and three hours long! So far, I’ve done songwriters Alan and Marilyn Bergman; and composers Bruce Broughton, Bill Conti, Danny Elfman, Dave Grusin, Maurice Jarre, Laurence Rosenthal and Lalo Schifrin. (Others feature such giants as Patrick Doyle, Johnny Mandel, Van Alexander and Richard Sherman.) Three more interviews are scheduled for the first quarter of 2016.
Fun last night doing a Q&A with composer Joe Kraemer, who scored the fifth film in the Mission: Impossible franchise, Rogue Nation (already on track to outpace the four previous films). The film wowed the Society of Composers & Lyricists audience at Paramount, and Kraemer was both informative and funny while regaling the crowd (mostly composers and songwriters) with the ups and downs of scoring a big summer popcorn flick. I was pleased to be able to tell him that Lalo Schifrin (composer of the original Mission: Impossible themes that Joe brilliantly applied throughout the score) loved what he had done.
Spy music from the ’60s has always been a big part of my life. I remember buying Lalo Schifrin’s two Mission: Impossible LPs (as well as his Mannix, There’s a Whole Lalo Schifrin Goin’ On, and countless other movie and jazz albums) back in the day. So it was a special thrill that La-La Land Records asked me to produce a 6-CD box set of music from all seven seasons of the original Mission: Impossible television series (which aired on CBS from 1966 to 1973). All 62 episodes with original scores (many others were “tracked” with previously recorded music) are represented, including 12 with music composed by Schifrin himself. I also wrote all the notes, chronicling the entire history of Mission music with comments about all the selections (and plenty of new information including recording dates and legendary jazz soloists who played on them).
Winner of the International Film Music Critics Association award as “Best New Archival Release – Compilation” of 2015.
Excerpts from fan reviews: “One of the best TV-score box sets ever produced… the comprehensive liner notes, the presentation, just ace!” “Exceptional. My favorite release of 2015 by a long shot. Absolutely phenomenal, from the liner notes to the sound quality to the graphic design.” “A thousand cheers to everyone involved in the making of this set. Without doubt, one of the coolest releases of the year.” “One of those dream soundtrack releases… really, really thrilled with it.”
“Major props for this collection can be given to Jon Burlingame, television music journalism’s answer to Ethan Hunt, whose knowledge of the medium easily bests being able to hang from an airplane at takeoff. Given dozens of hours of already powerful Mission: Impossible scoring to pull from, Burlingame has done an exceptional job of cherry picking what are truly the best tracks.” — Daniel Schweiger, Film Music Magazine
“Album producer Jon Burlingame provides a thrilling mission with this deluxe edition, including his comprehensive liner notes…. The finished result certainly is a thing of beauty and all involved should be congratulated.” — Darren Allison, Cinema Retro
I love this movie, and I can confirm that I’m far from the only guy who also loves this score (just ask Brett Ratner how he decided to hire Lalo Schifrin for the Rush Hour movies). It is, of course, the greatest kung-fu movie ever made, with an amazing performance by Bruce Lee both as star and fight choreographer. Lalo Schifrin’s score was originally released in 1973 as a 26-minute LP but then expanded by producer Nick Redman into a 56-minute CD by Warner Home Video in 1998. I was privileged to write the notes for that expansion, interviewing the composer and delving into the creation of this iconic score. So for Aleph’s reissue of the latter — expanded slightly to include the film’s main title, with Lee’s unique shouts — I have adapted my earlier essay.
On Saturday, I took part in “The Golden Anniversary Affair,” a celebration of the 1960s spy-series classic The Man From U.N.C.L.E. in Culver City, Calif. I moderated the afternoon music panel, featuring Lalo Schifrin and Gerald Fried (Robert Drasnin was unable to attend), and both produced and hosted a special, one-time-only evening concert of music composed for the series.
I chose 14 tunes (Jerry Goldsmith and Schifrin music from the first season, Fried and Drasnin from the second and third seasons), found most of the original charts from the 1964-66 recording sessions, and worked with six great L.A. jazz musicians in two rehearsals to get the music just right. Their rendition of Goldsmith’s romantic theme, “Meet Mr. Solo,” gave me chills, and their performance of Lalo’s Latin tunes like “Roulette Rhumba” were lively and colorful. Fried’s noirish “Lament for a Trapped Spy” and Drasnin’s cool-jazz number “Basic Black” were other highlights for me. It was an unforgettable night (the audience of 100 dyed-in-the-wool U.N.C.L.E. fans really loved it). My old friend Bob Short prodded me to do this and I’m so glad we did.
When I learned that Universal was renaming one of its streets after Stanley Wilson, I jumped at the opportunity to write about it — and composers John Williams, Lalo Schifrin, Quincy Jones and Dave Grusin all immediately agreed to talk with me about him. That’s because he helped launch all of their careers at Revue/Universal TV in the late 1950s and 1960s.
Wilson is an unsung hero in the film/TV music business. Anyone who grew up in the 1960s will remember seeing “Music Supervision… Stanley Wilson” at the end of practically every show that came out of Universal City. And sharp-eyed jazz fans will recall seeing his name as conductor or producer on albums by Benny Carter and Quincy Jones. He was a great man who deserves to be remembered. In 2001 I wrote a 52-page biography of him for The Film Music Society’s Cue Sheet (available here) and it’s still among my proudest accomplishments.
This was another favorite assignment. Most of this 5-CD set consists of TV-movie scores composed by some of the greats of the ’60s and ’70s: Lalo Schifrin (Earth II), Dave Grusin (Assignment: Vienna), Leonard Rosenman (The Phantom of Hollywood), Don Ellis (The Deadly Tower), Billy Goldenberg (High Risk), Jerry Fielding (Shirts / Skins) and George Duning (…Then Came Bronson). Throw in a TV-episode score by Johnny Williams (for The Eleventh Hour), George Romanis’ theme for Assignment: Munich and Richard Chamberlain’s vocal from Dr. Kildare and you really do have a potpourri of great TV music from 1962 to 1976. It was especially exciting to revisit Grusin’s three jazzy scores for the short-lived Robert Conrad spy series Assignment: Vienna (part of The Men trilogy on ABC, 1972-73) and Schifrin’s wonderful score for the Earth II pilot of 1971.
I have done quite a number of interviews with composers for the Archive of American Television, essentially video “oral histories” with these veterans, most of whom have also been active in films. In 2008 I interviewed Lalo Schifrin about his music for Mission: Impossible, Mannix and many other TV projects over the years. And here is a link to my Film Music Foundation interview with Lalo, which covers his movie career.
Another fun story for The New York Times: Hanging out at the Sony scoring stage while Michael Giacchino records his score for Mission: Impossible 3. J.J. Abrams and original Mission composer Lalo Schifrin also talked to me for the story.
In 1999, Lalo and Donna Schifrin asked me to pen the notes for their re-recording of his music for the long-running private-eye series Mannix. In addition to the 11 tracks on the original 1968 LP, Lalo wrote four new tunes to bring the running time up to a more CD-friendly hour’s length, then recorded them with Germany’s phenomenal WDR big band. It gave me a chance to talk with the composer about producer Bruce Geller’s ideas for the music… and to ask series star Mike Connors about it: “I used to walk down the street and people would hum the theme at me. Lalo’s terrific, and his music is sensational,” he said. It’s a terrific album and I am proud to have contributed a little something in terms of context.