Recently, Speak Like a Child was brought to my attention. It was part of a larger collection of jazz classics that a friend of mine had given me. I typically only listened to it late at night while studying. Eventually, I found myself whistling the album’s catchy melodies while walking around campus, and listening to it more and more beyond the context of studying.
I always believed that the music of the sixties, particularly jazz music, was reflective of the times. It made sense. Only an era defined by intense social injustice, war and counter culture could produce records like “Fable of Faubus,” or “Alabama.”
My inner music-nerd led me to research the album to learn its personnel. Upon reading the albums Wikipedia page, I had learned about the philosophical approach that Hancock used to compose the six-track LP. His interestingly counters my perception of sixties jazz music.
I’ll spare you the musical analysis and focus on his philosophical approach. The album’s Wikipedia page quotes heavily from the albums original liner notes written by music critic, Nat Hentoff. While many artist among Hancock’s circle were composing music in response the news of assassinations, riots, marches, and images of war that plagued newspapers and televisions, Hancock opted out of composing another compilation of blues records that would serve as a reminder of the pain that was being felt nation-wide. Instead Hancock attempted to capture the essence of childhood. He tapped into once-forgotten sense of joy, spontaneity, innocence and the unwavering sense of hope that characterizes our yesteryears, as the primary inspiration for his compositions.
In many ways Hancock brilliantly captured the times by looking beyond them with a message of hope, or as it is described in the liner notes, “a forward look into what could be a bright future.”
More than decade earlier, Dr. Howard Thurman shared an identical sentiment in his Meditations of the Heart. Thurman states, “whatever may be the tensions and the stresses of a particular day, there is always lurking close at hand the trailing beauty of forgotten joy or unremembered peace.”
Dr. Thurman’s insightful words, along with Hancock’s musical interpretation of the same message, should remind us of the importance of positive thinking. A message that the clichéd expression “if you believe it, you can achieve it,” has made incredibly difficult to talk about.
Unfortunately we live in a world where massive wealth disparities go over looked, public shootings frequent headlines, racism constantly veers its ugly head, and the politicians we elect appear to be more confused than we are. The harsh realities of the world have made me a pessimist. However, I will admit that is the wrong attitude.
**cues motivational music**
Positive change can only come through positive thinking. At this point in my life I can’t afford to remain a pessimist, primarily because I have reached the age where my voice and my actions actually matter. Learn to speak like a child. It is that childlike optimism, the enduring belief that the future will be brighter, that will shape a better world for those who come after us.