by Christy Rodriguez de Conte
Joe Bodiford breathes into the brass trumpet to connect the community when he plays at the Tallahassee Jazz & Blues Festival, set for March 25-26 at Tallahassee Museum.
A young Joe Bodiford, only newly discovering his love of music, breathes in as he feverishly conducts to the sounds of classical music with his homemade fishing rod-inspired baton. The exhale is felt in the following years as an older Joe delivers an entrancing soliloquy to the jury in his latest trial as a defense attorney in Florida. Both are Joe Bodiford. Both ignite a fire that, he only now realizes, makes him unique and powerful in a courtroom and on a stage.
Bodiford, an avid trumpet collector, smiles at his latest refurbishing of his mother’s 1940s coronet; the first instrument Bodiford laid his hands on. This encounter led him to pursue a life among the brass pistons, valves, and crooks.
Bodiford was born in Tallahassee, where he performed and competed as a trumpeter statewide in high school and college. He won many awards, including the National Trumpet Competition in Washington D.C, and eventually earned a fellowship to receive his Master of Arts at Florida State University.
“I was so immersed 24 hours a day; it was my life – total immersion, but I was always looking outside,” said Bodiford. His interest in political science inspired Bodiford to attend law school. Though his musician friends teased him, calling him a “sell-out,” Bodiford discovered an artistic medium in trial law that led to a practical path toward positive change.
Still, he continued playing through law school with “a bunch of old retired guys who would play big band music, a group of musicians,” recalls Bodiford. “We’d play, we’d break, I’d study, we’d play some more.” And so has been the cycle in Bodiford’s life.
There were no ideations of what to expect at Stetson Law by Bodiford. For this reason, after graduating, he was not surprised to discover how the crossover between his previous training as a musician and his new status as a lawyer fused to support each other.
“Everything I learned how to do through the instrument, I translated into the courtroom. I’ve had a lot of people tell me over the years, ‘You think differently as a trial lawyer because you are a musician,” says Bodiford. “I tell musicians, you’re playing something, you think you are doing it, but we aren’t hearing it. So you make your ‘louds’ louder, you make your ‘softs’ softer, you hit your tacks harder, you pull back because they’ve got to hear it. The same is true with a jury.”
Now in his 27th year of being a trial attorney in Tallahassee for a high-end boutique firm, he feels he has been able to help most of the people who have crossed his path with healing and helpful government services at the time of sentencing. Additionally, he is a professor at Stetson Law, where he teaches about empathy and understanding of the humanity needed to practice law to see people as humans and not as allegations on paper.
Along the way, music has always been there to help Bodiford manage the horrible stuff he has seen in a courtroom through the smooth notes he releases through his trumpet. Music is his escape, and the people he performs with are his community.
Read more on the Tallahassee Democrat.