Monday, March 27, 2006

Hawk on the Docket

Counselor Lopez pointed me towards an interesting case that came up in his Pace Law class. In the 1950’s British musicians Unions had created an extremely restrictive environment, which prohibited foreign musicians from playing in the UK without a prearranged foreign engagement for British musicians to offset this supposed loss of work for the local talent.

In reality, UK musicians were hit the hardest, because they were effectively denied the opportunity to hear the latest musical developments from America, then the unquestioned leader in new jazz developments. In his book Jazz in Revolution, Johnny Dankworth writes of what a momentous occasion it was to score a gig in Paris, because it gave him an opportunity to finally hear Charlie Parker live. After all, not too many Americans were clamoring to hear the somewhat dated music of the British scene.

In the 1951 case (Wilcox v. Jeffrey, King’s Bench Division, 1 All E.R. 464) Herbert William Wilcox, a jazz magazine editor was actually convicted of attending an “illegal” concert by Coleman Hawkins, and writing a positive review of the show, in a decision that found Wilcox to have aided and abetted a crime. Hawkins was a giant of the swing ere, who was able to make a successful transition into bebop. Hearing Hawk tackle modern jazz would have been an ear-opening opportunity for any British musician or music lover. However, under Britain’s restrictive, unionized environment, it was literally criminal. Hawk was wisely spared prosecution.

This case is instructive of several points. One being protectionism always hurts those it purports to help. French efforts to protect its film and television industry through GATT and WTO negotiations will have a similar effect. Without the exposure to international (and certainly American) developments, French cinema will become further stultified and insular.

It also illustrates that international law should have absolutely no bearing on the decisions of our judiciary. This was a foolish law and an unjust application. Mr. Wilcox was prosecuted because he went to a concert and wrote a review. I should hope such a case would be thrown out of a U.S. court on First Amendment grounds, even had we passed similarly ignorant protectionist measures.