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March 26, 2004
ASMAC salutes Lalo Schifrin and "the other" Ray Charles
by Jon Burlingame
Among the estimated 250 people in attendance were many creative dignitaries of the Hollywood music world, including Van Alexander, Ian Fraser, Duane Tatro, Alf Clausen, Vic Mizzy and Dan Foliart.
The event featured Kim Richmond's 17-piece big band performing such Schifrin favorites as the Mission: Impossible and Mannix themes and, with vocalist Sandra Booker, songs from Cool Hand Luke and The Cincinnati Kid.
Director Brett Ratner, who has hired the composer for three films, saluted Schifrin by noting that "his music is as important as the actors" and, especially in the Rush Hour action comedies starring Jackie Chan and Chris Tucker, "the success of my films would not have been possible without Lalo's music."
From the dinner table where he was seated with his wife Donna and members of his family, Schifrin accepted his award with apologies because he had been sidelined four weeks ago with a broken ankle, an injury suffered when he slipped on his office steps during a rainstorm.
He said he was humbled by the honor because, looking around the room at dozens of legendary arrangers, "you my peers and colleagues are responsible for my being here," a reference to his appreciation for their work while he was growing up in Argentina in the 1950s.
French President Jacques Chirac sent a letter of congratulations to Schifrin, prompting the composer to quip, "I don't know what President Bush is going to think about this." Schifrin received his award from ASMAC president John Clayton and longtime manager Clarence Avant.
Also honored at the event was vocal arranger and choral director Ray Charles long known in the business as "the other Ray Charles," a two-time Emmy Award winner whose career spans radio, television, movies and records. He received the Irwin Kostal Tribute Award.
Nick Perito, who was Perry Como's music director during much of Charles' 35-year tenure with the singer, cited Charles' "remarkable ability to turn a theatrical problem into something special." Veteran television producer Walter Miller called Charles "a giant in the music industry" and, with an amusing nod to the blues singer with the same name, said "you'd have to be blind not to recognize his talent."
Among those sending letters of congratulations to Charles was Kermit the Frog, who recalled Charles' work on The Muppet Show in England during the late 1970s.
A 25-voice choir, all members of the Ray Charles Singers during the 1950s, '60s and '70s, was assembled to perform a vocal tribute to their mentor. Charles, the first non-instrumental composer-arranger to be honored by the organization, thanked Como for "35 years of complete musical freedom" and said that despite his nearly 70 years in the music business, "it never seemed like work."
Richmond's big band played Charles on and off the stage with the theme from TV's Three's Company, which Charles sang.
Proceeds from the black-tie event benefited the organization's Don Costa-Gordon Jenkins-Nelson Riddle Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in Arranging, its Irwin Kostal Memorial Scholarship for Composition and the Young Musicians Foundation.
© 2004 Jon Burlingame