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Father-Son Musical Duo Capture Spirit of Father's Day - 2004-06-17

This weekend, Americans will observe Father's Day, an annual tradition of honoring the role of fatherhood. Noted father-and-son musical duo, Richard and Peter John Stoltzman's love and collaboration captures the spirit of Father's Day.

Jazz pianist Peter John Stoltzman was born 11 years after President Lyndon Johnson officially declared the Third Sunday of June as Father's Day in 1966.

At the time, his father, clarinetist Richard Stoltzman, had no expectation his son would one day give him the ultimate Father's Day gift, joining him on New York's premier concert stage, Carnegie Hall, to perform together.

And it is playing musical favorites like French composer Claude Debussy's Premiere Rhapsody that has become their language of love.

"The magical wonderful thing about music is that you can say these most tender, most loving, most frightened, most powerful, most aggressive things you could never say to your son," he said. "The dream I have for Peter John is being realized through sound in a kind of wonderful way."

Mr. Stoltzman is a Nebraska native whose father harbored improbable dreams of being a bandleader. The two-time musical Grammy Award-winner has performed and recorded with such jazz and popular music greats as Mel Torme, Chick Corea, and Judy Collins. He has also has played with major orchestras throughout the world, earning him status as one of today's finest classical clarinetists.

Father and son belong to different generations, both musically and literally. But the senior Mr. Stoltzman says he cannot separate playing with Peter John, his son, and Peter John, the "monster jazz piano player," a title bestowed by the late Jack Elliot, music director of the Grammy Awards.

"I have played with people on stage my whole life and I did not know what it was going to be like to play with Peter on stage," he said. "Because you get on the stage and you have expectations and demands that have to be placed on the other person, whether they are your son or your wife or your best friend or your worst enemy, you agree to come out on the stage and do something incredibly special for the audience.

And you expect of yourself and of the other musicians on stage to do no less," he added. "And yet, he is your son, and I am aware of all the frailties that I have, and I know that Peter John has frailties too. You can handle your own, but you do not want your child to have to handle those things. You want them to have a serene life that does not have all the neuroses in them."

But that did not stop Peter John from taking up the violin at the age of three, and the piano at five. Now 27, newly married and an accomplished pianist and master of jazz improvisation, Peter John freely admits he was inspired by the sounds of his father practicing.

"Music has always been a struggle for me to reconcile the work side and the play side, because you do have to practice," he explains. "That's always been hard for me, even though I had the pinnacle example of it in my father. He was not breathing down my neck at all, he was doing his own thing."

( "What did you imagine me as, somebody basically who stayed in the basement?" asked Richard Stoltzman.

"No, but obviously I enjoyed my time with you throwing a baseball around more than when you were practicing," Peter John responded. "I still have very pleasant memories of hearing you practice."

Richard Stoltzman says music permeated his home in Boston, Massachusetts, giving Peter John a feeling for music at an early age. Lucy Stoltzman, Richard's wife, is a violinist. His daughter Meggie plays the piano.

"All along with Peter John, we sang to him all the time," she said. "In fact Peter John wrote a piece called Lullabye, which is a kind of a recollection of a song, a lullabye that we sang to him all the time, every night."

"Lullabye is about the nurturing of both my parents but it is dedicated to my father," explained Peter John. "Both my parents used to come into my room every night, I would call for them, and they would give me back massages, and tell me stories and my Dad was a master at making up fantastical stories, and my Dad would often sing me to sleep with Brahm's Lullabye."

Father and son are respectful, even admiring of each other's tastes and talents. They openly recount that at first, Peter John had to take musical direction from his father. But as he became a more proficient jazz improviser, father took cues from his son.

Peter John says he has written many musical compositions with his father in mind.

"Being with my Dad, it is not about it being different on the stage. It is about being different because it is my Dad. There is something about our musicianship that is intrinsically linked," he said.

"It is the way we breathe and the fact that Peter John has heard my sound, like I heard my Dad's sound. He heard my sound from when he was almost in the womb," explained Mr. Stoltzman. "He would fall asleep to the sound of the clarinet, and those sounds are something that is basically part of his breathing, his life. So even as he writes music, he writes it sometimes with the phrasing and feeling he has heard from the clarinet. My wife has said that Peter John tries to play the piano like a clarinet sometimes."

Richard and Peter John Stoltzman sheepishly confess that when they travel for concerts, they still only book one hotel room. This way, father and son can hang out together after the show, watch television and catch up on their favorite shared pastime -- watching the Boston Red Sox baseball team.