How Jack Walker Got His Groove Back
An estate planning attorney dusts off his brass
Published in 2008 North Carolina Super Lawyers magazine
on January 21, 2008
Updated on September 14, 2015
It all began in 1990 with a notice in the church bulletin: “Seeking brass players to form a church quintet. All interested persons come to the Mission Room after the service.”
Edwin J. “Jack” Walker, a member of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Durham, felt compelled to go. He was curious about the trumpet he packed away after graduating from law school in 1969. Could he still play? Could he play well?
Turns out he could. “Jack is not the average congregational member who can dust off his horn and play a service—he is a strong musician,” says quintet organizer Jim Ketch, a music professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
An estate planning attorney with Walker, Lambe, Rhudy & Costley, Walker, 63, has since played with the Durham Symphony, the Triangle Brass Band, the Chapel Hill Philharmonia, the Durham Community Concert Band and, of course, the Westminster Brass Ensemble. He also plays gigs with Ketch, a highly accomplished trumpeter. The duo’s repertoire includes Italian baroque concertos by Vivaldi and Manfredini. “These are florid pieces for two piccolo trumpets that take a lot of skill,” Ketch says.
Walker’s clients are impressed. At a dinner meeting of the Triangle Community Foundation in 2006, he treated the board to a medley of songs and jokes about two outgoing directors. “I was expecting a few toots of the horn, but he did a whole shtick,” says Fred Stang, the foundation’s development director. “He had the whole room rolling with laughter.”
Says Walker, the group’s legal counsel and a former director: “I’m introverted actually, but give me a stage and I’m a ham.”
Playing music brought Walker tremendous pleasure as a child and even helped pay his way through school. As a senior in high school, he was third-chair trumpet, all-state band. His Concord high school band marched in John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade in January 1961. “It was such a cold day that the valves on our instruments froze,” he recalls. “All we did was walk by to a drum cadence.”
At Davidson College, a partial music scholarship materialized when Walker told the admissions director about his financial challenges. He also won an academic scholarship and worked three jobs to pay his way through the private college, where he earned a bachelor’s in history. Walker played in Davidson’s Wind Ensemble and a few times with the Charlotte Symphony, but he ruled out a music career. “I had this sense I wouldn’t be good enough to be a heavyweight, and I wanted to be a heavyweight in whatever I did,” he says. “When it comes to making a living as a musician, you don’t do well unless you’re the best.”
Walker chose law after spending a month as a summer intern in an insurance company’s legal department. He also discovered a talent for public speaking. “I thought I would do courtroom work,” he says. Early on, however, he found he didn’t like defending clients he believed were guilty, so he shifted gears to tax law and retirement and estate planning. In the early 1990s, Walker says, he became the first attorney in Durham to be designated a board-certified specialist in estate planning and probate law.
Walker focused almost exclusively on his career until he revived his passion for the trumpet. “The obsessive-compulsive Jack just practiced law,” Walker says. “I don’t think I read a book either.” Former law partner Bill King calls Walker’s work ethic “by far his No. 1 virtue,” but Walker sees it as a mixed blessing. “I’m the only child of two alcoholics. I numbed all my feelings by trying to excel.”
Returning to the trumpet “has given me some balance,” Walker says. “It took me about a year to get my chops back. Once I had it all together, the love came back.”