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Jazz music and trial lawyering

Jan 01, 2007 Jazz music and trial lawyering

Long before ever stepping foot in law school, I was a jazz music fanatic, since the age of twelve in 1975, particularly for fellow trumpeters. I experienced Miles play that year in Newport, Dizzy two years later in Westport and two more times, Cat the following year in Nice, Roy the following year in New York, Woody four years later in Boston, and Freddie a bit later the same year in Cambridge. 

Right into the eighties — perhaps beyond then — the most famous straightahead jazz masters ordinarily earned money that paled in comparison to rock star pay, sometimes only being able to fill an average-sized nightclub. They did it for love of the music, for excellence, for the ecstasy of living the music, and because this was part of who they were. That parallels what guided me to and kept me with criminal defense law. The struggles for justice for criminal defendants involve substantial toil and frequent frustrations with the criminal justice system; however, the victories make it all worth it, and the constant fight for justice is the only way to obtain those victories.

Great jazz music involves spontaneity, improvisation, and often mind-blowing brilliance that make the best rock music look like tiddlywinks. Great criminal defense involves the same dynamics.

This spontaneity, improvisation and being in the moment can pleasantly surprise and please both the musician and the trial lawyer. For instance, Cab Calloway’s famous line from "Minnie the Moocher" — "Hi-de-hi-de-hi-de-ho," "Oodlee-odlye-odlyee-oodlee-doo" — came not from any advance planning, but from having to fill in the gaps when he forgot some of the song’s lyrics. It is akin to being thrown a curve by a judge’s improvidently sustaining an objection to a lawyer’s line of questioning, and continuing a new line of attack flawlessly, without skipping a beat, and perhaps with more skilled ferocity than ever. 

Jon Katz.

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