Wednesday, December 05, 2012

A Time to Improvise

         “We blew them away in Chicago.”  So said Maestro Gary Greene, Esq., as he led his recently formed Big Band of Barristers to win First Place as the best lawyers’ band in the country.  Who knows … maybe in the world.  Just the day before that, I "blew it" in my August column.  But first let's talk about the band.

         The 18-piece swing band performed at the Chicago Art Institute in a competition sponsored by the American Bar Association at its annual convention in Chicago last month.  The band had to be good to win an election in Chicago.  I suppose playing “Chicago” didn’t hurt.  In two sets lasting 45 minutes each, the band caressed, enticed, pleased, tickled, mesmerized, and seduced the audience, who danced, cheered, rocked, and, most importantly, voted.

         The big band sound was brought to an appreciative audience through the hip arrangements of Jerry A. Ranger.  The tunes included “Easy Street,” "Stompin' at the Savoy," "Body and Soul,” "Jump Town," "Ballin' the Jack" ‑ sounds reminiscent of Count Basie, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Duke Ellington.

         That I am the piano player in this august assemblage of talented lawyers gives me license to take a one-eighteenth pride in the band’s accomplishment.  It was significant considering Gary Greene brought us together a mere six months ago.  And, yes, we recorded a CD, which is in the "mixing" stage of preparation for release.

         The band truly swings.  Its impressive array of legal talent is also a collection of talented musicians, many of whom had professional careers in music.  The drummer Jerry Levine, a partner at Holland & Knight, and the bass player, Robert Hirschman, a business lawyer and litigator, were on the road with top recording artists and bands before they went to law school.  We all knew one another when we were attending law school, and since then we have played together.  That's what kids do when they are having fun. 

         The band includes such lawyers as Joseph Di Giulio, alto sax; David Schorr, baritone sax; John Snell, trumpet; Gary Urwin, trumpet; Mark Eisenberg, trumpet; Alexander Plitt, trombone; Marc Sallus, trombone; Barry Goldberg, trombone; and William Hochberg, guitar.

         This all brought home to me that some of the most successful attorneys are those who have developed skills and insight into other disciplines.  Recently Gary Greene and I joined legal scholar Howard Miller and the redoubtable trial lawyer Tom Girardi on his radio show "Champions of Justice" for a stimulating discussion about this phenomenon.  A strong liberal arts education, with insight into literature, philosophy, and the arts, makes for an informed lawyer who accomplishes more for the client, more for the profession, and more for the community.  Jerry, the drummer, mentioned to me that the attention to detail and focus required of him as a musician has been invaluable in his legal practice.  And successful litigators and musicians know there is a time to think, a time to let one’s natural talent lead the way, and a time to improvise.

         What?  Now you want to know how I blew it in my last column?  I was hoping you would forget.  My column does generate e‑mails and personal letters, some even signed, and, on occasion, some with positive comments.  The ones that receive a big response are often not those that deal with monumental issues ‑ recent threats to the independence of the judiciary or the decline in professional ethics.  Cats, on the other hand, elicit a big response.  Some of the toughest litigators are the biggest suckers for their cats.  Some even admit they get on the floor with their spoiled felines, scratch them behind their ears, and speak to them in the voice of a countertenor.  So do I. 

But what prompt the most e-mails are errata.  How my faithful readers love to catch errors.  In one column, I wrote, “It is me.”  A lawyer wrote me that he was shocked that I could have made such a blunder.  True, "I" is the subject and "me" is grammatically incorrect.  I acknowledged his point, but then pointed out that no one says, “It is I.”  Fowler’s Modern English Usage points out that common usage allows for “me,” and that “I” sounds stilted.

         Unfortunately, I do not have an easy out from the error in my last column, which generated a mini-avalanche of comments.  I had written that I was in my "seventh" decade.  Of course this was wrong.  I am in my eighth decade, just like the 23-year-old is in her third decade.  That I would rather be in my seventh decade is no excuse.  I thank my readers for their attention to detail.  At least no one complained about the philosophical point of the column.  

         And this takes me back to music.  This time I draw upon the avant-garde composer John Cage.  His composition "4.33" consists of a pianist entering the concert hall and sitting down at the Steinway Grand.  He sits there for four minutes and 33 seconds not playing.  The point of the piece is to make the audience aware of the ambient noise around them, the nervous coughs and titters from the audience.  I thought about writing an opinion like that ‑ four and one-third blank pages.  Law professors would have a field day with it.  And no telling what the Supreme Court would do.

         Better yet, I should have written my last column in Cage’s style ‑ no words, just a blank column.  Then, I would not have made my error.  Cage however made a good point about error, which I recently read in The New York Times.  He said error is simply “a failure to adjust immediately from a preconception to an actuality.”  With that comforting thought in mind, I think I will listen to the Miles Davis album "Kind of Blue."

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