Senior Profile: Music, the Mafia and Seneca

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By Lupita Gonzales

What would it take to lure renowned musicians into one’s home? What if they were Arturo Toscaninni, considered by many as the greatest conductor ever to wave a baton, or George and Ira Gershwin, renowned lyricist and pianist and the beloved clarinet player, Benny Goodman?

Luring wasn’t necessary; in the East 90th Street New York City home of Albert Fredric Stoessel, an American composer, violinist and conductor; these visits were customary. Stoessel’s son, Las Vegas resident, Fredrick Stoessel says, “I just thought of them as family friends.”

Fred, the younger of A. F. Stoessel’s two sons, now 83, himself an accomplished pianist, shares memories of his growing-up years. His anecdotes of the aforementioned and other greats might possibly sound somewhat “irreverent,” but then, we are talking about human beings, great as they might have been in the public eye.

Fred’s father often gave concert tours, appearing with the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and the Boston Symphony Orchestra. His last tour was with the New York Philharmonic at a special concert at Columbia University. A mere 48 years of age, the elder Stoessel suffered a heart attack on stage while conducting the group: Fred was 14 when his father died.

The elder Stoessel was born in St. Louis, but his parents sent him to Germany for his education. He was granted a scholarship to Hochschule of Music in Berlin, where he came to know Kaiser Wilhelm, the Kaiserina and Adolf Hitler. When World War I broke out, A.F. Stoessel took the last train out of Germany, returned to the United States and immediately was drafted into the military. Later in his career, he was commissioned a major general of music.

Fred’s mother, Julia Picard, also was a musician — a concert violinist, schooled at the German Hochschule. A.F. Stoessel had been her teacher. Julia and Alfred were married in Boston just before he joined the military. By the late 1920s, the family had settled in New York City

Fredrick “Fred” Stoessel grew up in New York City surrounded by musicians. Asked if he ever played music with his father, Fred answers, matter-of-factly, “Yeah, you know, musicians are always playing.”

Fred attended Collegiate School for Boys in New York City. He says it is the oldest school in the country — a Dutch Protestant school. “I hated it,” he says. Nevertheless, his background made it possible for him to go on to Juilliard School of Music and then to Oberlin College. He adds, “My musical training made it possible to make a living as a pianist. I worked my way through college.”

Fred, born in 1928, and his older brother, Ted grew up in the 30s. George Gershwin and Arturo Toscanini were frequent visitors.

“My Aunt Edna had a crush on Gershwin.”

Fred said, “Arturo Toscanini was a great friend — always playing the piano. In those days there was no air conditioning, so the sounds of Toscanini’s craft could be heard through the open windows.

“One night as he played,” Stoessel relates, someone from another apartment yelled out, obviously irritated by the music.

The Stoessels’ friend yelled back, “I am Arturo Toscanini, and I am playing the piano.” The other voice returned, “Aw, shut up. I don’t care who you are. We’re trying to sleep!”

Fred comments, “I grew up in a sheltered way. People were honest.”

Despite his musical background, Fred chose to work in the public sector after finishing his education.

“I went on to Wall Street with the desire to make money,” he admits.

Fred met his future wife, Antonia Ferran-Sferazza in New York , where she worked in public relations and advertising for EBD&O, an advertising firm. The couple were married in the 1940s: Toni passed away about five years ago.

During the Stoessels’ years in New York, Toni continued her work in advertising while Fred pursued a number of types of employment, mortgage brokering, FBI work, among them.

Both cared for their respective mothers, who suffered from Alzheimer’s. Fred wrote a couple of books on spiritualism in the context of his affiliation with Christian Scientists. He remarks wryly, “I’m everything I shouldn’t be in Las Vegas.”

During the mid-1980s, the Stoessels moved to New Mexico, living in Albuquerque and Rio Rancho for a while. Fred’s sister, Carmen, lived in Rio Rancho. He said Toni wanted to get out of that area, so they moved to Las Vegas in the early 1990s.

“We didn’t know a soul. We lived at the Dave Jones Ranch for about 10 years.,” he said.

He now lives in a mobile home on El Llano Road.

Fred continues his comments; Seneca, his cat, sidles up to him, moving freely about.

“My baby,” utters Fred, petting the cat. There’s obviously a “soft” side to this gentleman. Surrounded by his computer and various documents in progress, Fred proffers a flyer titled “The Mafia in Peyton Place,” referring to his 1979 book published by The Self Help Press. Stoessel remarks that he has sought assistance from the Santa Fe Arts Council for funding of his publications.

He says, “So, I don’t know — been trying to get my book sold, but getting nowhere.”

This particular publication chronicles the fight against drug dealers in New Hampshire. He muses, “I’d never realized how many ‘legitimate people’ are involved in it. When I came out here, I wanted to be involved in running out drugs. It’s too big. My message to Las Vegas is, ‘You can clean it out if you wanted.’”

On a different note, Fred remembers being at a Highlands University performance of a New York radio show when Selimo Rael was HU president. “Some kids on stage were fooling around with a water gun. Selimo was sitting in the front row. I grabbed the water gun and took a bead; I shouted, ‘I got’im, I got ‘im.’ Selimo didn’t know what hit him,” Fred said, chuckling.

Fred doesn’t drive anymore. He takes the bus into town during the week, enjoys coffee with friends in town, but is pretty much stranded when the bus doesn’t run on weekends.