If Billy Preston performed in the courtroom

Mar 11, 2011 If Billy Preston performed in the courtroom

When I walk into a courtroom — and when I sit for multiple days in a jury trial — the world outside the courthouse walls very much stays with me, as it must, and as is the nature of non-dualism.

As I wrote four years ago, in the sterile, windowless, and often chilling surroundings of a courtroom, the imagination is needed to make the place come alive for justice. I like to replace the framed paintings of unsmiling judges and the appearance of armed police with the antics of R. Crumb, the juxtapositions of Joseph Kosuth, and the endless imagination of Santana Miyazaki. I like to replace the unsettling sound of clicking handcuffs and slamming celldoors with the sounds of Dizzy Gillespie’s be-bop, John Coltrane’s Love Supreme, Van Morrison’s "Moondance", and Cecil Taylor being Cecil Taylor

For nine years, I formally studied music through trumpet-playing, finally reaching the point of four years of in-depth musical improvisation. This always serves me well for improvising in the courtroom. Music and art need not be complex to be powerful, as exemplified by Count Basie and the Doobie Brothers, and by Ben Katchor and Bill Griffith. Whatever keeps the powerful passion and fire in our hearts and bellies is what is key.

Many are the musicians who move me, and I add Billy Preston to the above list, particularly his performances of "Will It Go Round in Circles" and "Nothing from Nothing". The last two links not only deeply capture Preston’s essence, but remind me of where I was in life at the time the songs were released, when I was ten years old, at once in wonder over such creative and artistic greatness, but too often seeing life in shades of gray until around the next twenty-two years, coinciding with my entry into a t’ai chi lifestyle that continues into today, applying in-depth lessons from my peace mentor and friend Jun Yasuda, and learning about and applying non-attachment, non-attachment being strongly connected to t’ai chi, Jun Yasuda’s approach to life, and Buddhism. Before learning about the foregoing trio, I would often turn to music to help soothe my soul, including picking up and playing the trumpet.

In the music world, great jazz musicians continue having a particularly special place in my heart. So many great jazz musicians have consistently put their love of their music first, successfully avoiding selling out to what will sellout a concert hall or the most albums. This inspires me as I continue putting my clients ahead of money at every turn; of course, when a lawyer does so, s/he earns more money than when doing the opposite.

Artists and performers like Cecil Taylor, Dizzy Gillespie, and Trane seem to go on journeys many stratospheres from here, sending their discoveries, joys, and hard work back to earth in recorded and live form, before advancing to even further stratospheres. Being entertainers and discoverers, artists can get away with stratospheric journeys. Trial lawyers must connect with judges, jurors, and witnesses in ways that make them appear fully present in place and time, being fully engaged at all times. The journey for the trial lawyer to take the jury and judge on, then, is not into other worlds and into outer space, but a journey of further human awakening, caring, sharing, depth, self-understanding, and knowledge, to achieve the best possible result for the lawyer’s client. The successful trial lawyer must fully invest himself or herself in that journey.


Here are some further items about Cecil Taylor, whom I discuss above:

Cecil is fascinating beyond his music alone. At a reception after first experiencing him live in 1999, I was floored by this eclectic giant who spoke not only of music but about his fascination with the architecture, design, and function of bridges, and who later spoke of the relationship between music and dance. Those are but a few examples about Cecil beyond his music.

On jazz master Dave Brubeck, Cecil said:  "When Brubeck opened in 1951 in New York I was very impressed with the depth and texture of his harmony, which had more notes in it than anyone else’s that I had ever heard. It also had a rhythmical movement that I found exciting…I don’t think that that music is important now for what it made, but I think it was important then for the gaps it filled.

More recently, in this amazing interview of Cecil — grabbing life and idea by their horns — he proclaims: "Sound has color, perhaps six different colors, which most human beings cannot perceive, but animals can perceive."

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