Mission: Impossible composer Lalo Schifrin says he’s given up scoring movies (maybe!) but, at 84, he is still writing potent music for the classical world. His new guitar concerto, his second for renowned soloist Angel Romero, will debut Tuesday night at the Hollywood Bowl (with Gustavo Dudamel conducting the Los Angeles Philharmonic). In this piece for the Los Angeles Times, I interviewed the five-time Grammy winner about his concerto, about writing for films vs. the concert hall, and about the enduring legacy of a 1966 TV theme that remains his most famous work. (I also talked to Romero, who laughed and said Schifrin’s guitar writing was “diabolical” — as in difficult.)
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
Bob Drasnin was one of the last of the great composers of the classic era of TV that spanned the 1950s through the 1980s. He scored everything from The Twilight Zone and Playhouse 90 to The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and Mission: Impossible. I was proud to have included excepts from all of his U.N.C.L.E. music on the albums I produced for FSM a few years ago. In his later years he was a teacher and mentor to dozens if not hundreds of film-scoring students… and he was a nice guy with great, often very funny, stories about his years in the trenches. Here is the obituary I wrote for Variety; and here is a longer, more detailed appreciation of his work.
We knew her as Sarah Johnson, the beautiful, very efficient (and gun-toting) secretary in U.N.C.L.E. headquarters on The Man From U.N.C.L.E. But after a handful of guest spots in ’60s TV, she ditched the acting career for a typewriter, penning some of our other favorite spy shows including Mission: Impossible, The Wild Wild West and It Takes a Thief. Later she wrote a number of action and adventure films (including the original treatment for guilty-pleasure blaxploitation flick Truck Turner, starring Isaac Hayes). Here’s my obituary for Variety.
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.
The release of the misbegotten film version of I Spy served as a springboard for a piece about why filmmakers can’t seem to get big-screen versions of classic ’60s spy shows right. Detective-show historian Ric Meyers, veteran TV critic Matt Roush and pop-culture specialist Robert J. Thompson all chimed in when I called. I was irritated by the trashing of The Wild Wild West, The Avengers and Mission: Impossible — and worried about what might happen with a Man From U.N.C.L.E. movie (see Roush’s great quote at the end).