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Keeping up with the score

When RTE announced that it had managed to secure the Irish debut of Lalo Schifrin -- the man behind more than a 100 film and TV soundtracks, including Bullitt, Mission: Impossible and Cool Hand Luke -- I was both delighted and disgusted.

Delighted, because the man is a genius. And disgusted, because I knew I'd still be on my two-month stay in Los Angeles. The only consolation was that the Argentine (72) also lives in LA and, after a few emails, I found myself in his Beverly Hills home.

PAUL BYRNE: Your father Luis was concert master for the Philharmonic Orchestra of Buenos Aires; you began piano studies aged six; in your teens, you were tutored by Andreas Karalis and Juan-Carlos Paz. Yet you studied sociology and law at the University of Buenos Aires -- not entirely sure music could be a living?

LALO SCHIFRIN: No, I had always wanted to do music, and nothing else, but my father got worried for a while. He didn't dislike jazz, but he didn't like the atmosphere of nightclubs; maybe drugs, prostitutes . . .

PB: All true . . .

LS: Yeah, well, I am a father now, and I understand his concern. I took law but I kept on studying piano. I then won a scholarship to study in Paris, and there I lived a double-life, studying classical by day and playing jazz by night.

PB: It's never easy to make a living in music -- did you always know that this would work out?

LS: I didn't do it for the money; I did it because I love it. I played in good clubs, with great European and American musicians.

PB: Returning to Argentina after your studies, you started up a 16-piece big band.

LS: Then Dizzy Gillespie came to town, with the likes of Quincy Jones, Billy Mitchell, all these greats, and I was asked to play after this special dinner for them. When Dizzy heard the arrangements, he said, "Would you like to come to America?" I thought he was joking.

When I got there, he asked me to write something for him, and I put together Gillespiana, and that really started everything.

PB: Were you confident, or petrified?

LS: I was confident in the music, in the compositions. I had a certain amount of stage fright meeting Dizzy, and I still get stage fright going up there for any gig. I'll be nervous before the Dublin gig, but it means you still care . . .

PB: When Gillespiana proved a hit, Verve soon released other albums for you, and their parent company MGM quickly decided to get you on to their soundtrack roster. You were then incredibly prolific.

LS: Not so much prolific, as lucky. It takes two to tango.

PB: Are there certain pieces of music you've created that give you a chill?

LS: I don't tend to listen to my own music in that way. I don't have an ego.

PB: What should people expect from your concert at the National Concert Hall?

LS: They should expect to be amazed. We'll be playing many of my own compositions, but there will also be a few compositions by those I admire, too. It'll be exciting to play in Ireland for the first time. Irish people love their music . . .

Lalo Schifrin plays the NCH with the RTE Concert Orchestra on Sunday. Visit www.nch.ie for info