“For me, knowledge is happiness”
Creating and performing great music and delivering persuasive trial performance can look effortless, but they demand ceaseless practice, passion, inspiration and focus. This is a reason that music deeply inspires my trial law practice. Moreover, having played music onstage from 1972 through 1982, I became comfortable more quickly on the courtroom stage, while still cognizant of the stagefright challenging so many of my clients and their witnesses.
I learned music through trumpet playing. Although Dizzy Gillespie remains for me the great master trumpeter who was the next bridge after Roy Eldridge from Louis Armstrong, Woody Shaw was more accessible to me, in part by being closer in age, and also through having taken the time to strike up a conversation with me before he started a 1983 performance on a jazz boat in Boston Harbor, and then having talked further with me after the first set. I asked Woody which model horn he played. He handed me his Yamaha, and I did my best to act nonchalant handling what at that moment was the most priceless and fragile material item. Six years later, Woody tragically died just short of the age I am now. John Coltrane died just short of 41. Today I learned that Woody was a fellow t’ai chi practitioner whose music was very much influenced by the martial art; his t’ai chi is discussed in this article.
I took quickly to jazz music, in part because the musicians cannot get away with merely reading a script. Improvisation ordinarily is essential, which means mastering the instrument, being in the moment, and conversing through music with one’s co-musicians and the audience. The same happens in trial, with the added critical element being the need to protect the liberty of one’s client.
Miles Davis was a great trumpeter who took the jazz path, showed how easy the jazz path is not, and stumbled seriously at certain critical points along the way. 1975 was the first time I experienced Miles, performing in Newport, as 49. His playing sounded lousy. Miles’s official website says: “In 1976, a combination of bad health, cocaine use, and lack of inspiration caused Miles to go into a 5-year retirement.” Around ten years later, Miles looked like musical royalty walking with a golden cane while with his then-wife Cicely Tyson just a few rows in front of us at a Broadway musical. Miles’s earlier music inspires me most, and his later discussions of music and life inspire me nearly as much. What I heard of his music in the 1980’s and thereafter did not enthuse me much, including his playing of Cindy Lauper songs. On the other hand, he played at one or more points with Chaka Khan, whose “Feel for You” gets my legs moving every time.
What did Miles mean when, on Sixty Minutes a year before his death, in response to whether he was happy, he replied: “For me, knowledge is happiness”? He learned, performed, and taught much; I doubt Miles meant that knowledge in its narrow sense, by itself, was enough for him. He hardly seemed to be as easy to please as that. Perhaps he was talking about the kind of knowledge that contributes tremendously to self-discovery, self-improvement, and transcending the humdrum that often accompanies many daily activities on Earth.
One thing I do know about great music is that it helps me feel I am traveling through time, stratospheres, and human and physical obstacles. Moreover, great music entertains and inspires me to entertain in a persuasive and sincere way in court. Jon Katz.