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James Durst Memorial Celebration Saturday May 28th in White Plains NY

jamesdurstSinger, poet, songwriter James Durst left his songs to us last week, he died in a tragic accident.   At a dinner with friends, he aspirated on food and before the emergency medical team could get to him, the lack of oxygen had fatally injured his brain.  On life support for more than a week, he died peacefully early Friday, April 1.

News that he’d died some days before had circulated, and it would be just like James to be entertained by the opportunity to say, “Rumors of my demise have been greatly exaggerated.”  He left us on April Fools day, which I’m guessing he would enjoy being his last humorous gesture. 

A celebration of his life is planned for the afternoon of Saturday, May 28th (Memorial Day weekend) in White Plains NY.  All are invited, and it will no doubt be a great gathering of musicians and party.  Check back here, or on the James Durst Facebook page, for more details as they are settled.  We will be creating a Facebook Event page soon.  Please register there that you plan to attend, so we might know how many to expect.  
In peace,  James’ long time friend, Jim Scott


20th anniversary edition of ‘Wish I Were Here’ released!

New CD ‘Wish I Were Here’

I’m proud and thrilled to announce the release of the 20th anniversary edition of Wish I Were Here , revisited, refreshed, remixed and remastered. It’s a colorfully melodic and poetic potpourri of 13 original and collected love songs ranging from the interpersonal to the universal, from the poignant to the lighthearted, and reminiscent of a late night set in a hushed listening room. It’s supported by numerous world class musicians and singers not the least of which includes harmonica virtuoso Howard Levy and ‘Counterpoint’ chorale under the direction of Robert deCormier. “A quiet gem.” — Folk Roots Magazine

James: Solomon Linda’s ‘Mbube (Wimoweh)’ at Library of Congress ‘Seeger Symposium,’ 2007 (VIDEO)

James Durst, troubadour and founding member of the Weavers tribute group Work o’ the Weavers, talks about the background of Solomon Linda’s ‘Mbube’ (recorded & performed by The Weavers as ‘Wimoweh’) and performs the song during a panel discussion at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC, March 16, 2007. Pete was in the audience and James shared the panel with Pete’s nephew, UCLA ethnomusicologist Dr. Anthony Seeger and Pete’s half-brother, legendary traditional folk musician Mike Seeger.

HUE MANATEE’S QUEST: A Watery Musical Memoir

As told to JAMES DURST (Synopsis)

When our central character Hue Manatee is nearly dispatched by an angry boat propeller in the opening scene, the close call is witnessed by a passing itinerant musician, fiddler and singer Flickati Cricket. The two opposites find commonality in their mutual awareness of environmental degradation and somehow vaguely know that the responsibility lies with the Two-legged Ones. Rather than accept this condition as inevitable, the two set off in search of a solution, seeking the counsel of renowned teacher and change agent, Leon Chameleon. When they find Leon he is scurrying about getting his affairs in order. The two youngsters try to engage him in answering their questions, but he remains distracted and aloof until Hue mentions the “change” in their respective environments. Leon’s attention sharpens upon hearing mention of his favorite subject and he acknowledges the presence of the two. They soon learn that Leon is about to embark on a long and arduous journey to his ancestral homeland, the Galápagos. When the two younger ones protest the imminent loss of their new mentor, Leon invites them to join him in the hope of learning more about their questions. But before setting out Leon takes them to meet Shining Eagle, the shaman of the Northern Hemisphere Imáji Nation, to bless their journey. Shining Eagle gifts them with one of his own feathers to enable them to transcend gravity and speed them on their way.

En route to the Galápagos the three travelers meet and share songs and perils with a whale and a trio of dolphins, and are ultimately rescued on the back of Ella Condor, the medicine woman of the Southern Hemisphere Todos tribe, who delivers the three seekers to their final destination. Upon arriving on the rocky shores they’re welcomed by the well-known street corner vocal quintet, Acapellago. They sing together, after which Leon reveals that for him this has been a one-way trip, and he prepares to take the ultimate journey. Flickati realizes that her mission is to employ her music as a teaching medium, and Hue understands that his function is to “act locally” and return home to clean up his own backyard and hopefully, inspire his neighbors to do likewise. As the three are about to go their separate ways, Hue awakens from semi-consciousness with a bump on his forehead from the early morning boat propeller incident. Seeing only the faces of his concerned manatee family about him — no wise chameleon or rapscallion cricket, no eagle or condor spiritual leaders, no dolphins, whale or Galápagosian singers — Hue realizes that his colorful odyssey was all just a strange and beautiful dream from which he has awakened wiser and more determined than ever to make a difference in the life of his troubled planet.

Hue Manatee’s Quest is available as 1) a Screenplay, 2) a Stage Adaptation in several forms, 3) a Book Manuscript and 4) a CD: Songs from Hue Manatee’s Quest.
Contact James Durst:

James in Ho Chi Minh City to Honor Pham Duy, 2011 (VIDEO)

After 37 years, in October of 2011 I returned briefly to Vietnam to honor my friend Pham Duy on the occasion of his 91st birthday. Even though Pham Duy was born October 5, 1921, the Vietnamese begin counting “one” at birth. He is that nation’s ‘Pete Seeger/Woody Guthrie’, singer/composer of poems, operas, symphonies and thousands of songs, and we had toured together throughout South Vietnam in the spring of 1974 at the invitation of the US Information Service. Our friendship led to a collaboration where each of us translated ten of the other’s songs into our own language and then published together a bi-lingual song book, Songs/Ca Khuc, under the auspices of the Vietnamese American Association. Someone at the party had actually found a copy at a used book store. I’ve recorded several of these translations and used two in my musical, Hue Manatee’s Quest. The distinguished red-jacketed gentleman seen briefly in the front row is Pham Duy. After living 30 years with his family in Southern California, he returned to Saigon in 2005 to live out his days. Together with his two oldest sons, Quang and Cuong — also respected musicians in their own right, he continues to fill the air — and our hearts — with wonderful music.  –James
(UPDATE 5/13) Renowned poet/composer Pham Duy passed from this life in January, 2013. His eldest son, singer/entrepreneur Duy Quang preceded him in death in December 2012.


A Watery Musical Memoir as told to JAMES DURST

An Eco-Peace World Musical for Planetary Citizens of All Ages Celebrating Unity in Diversity, Friendship, Environmental Sustainability and Peace

Music and Book by JAMES DURST
With additional songs by Jim Scott, Bill Staines, Lorre Wyatt,
Daniel Alómias Robles, Molly Scott,
Jay Mankita & Pham Duy
© 1995-2012 James Durst/PhoeniXongs ASCAP

Hue Manatee’s Quest may be most effectively expressed as a choreographed multi-media theater piece, with from 8 to 15 players. Stage adaptations are available in several forms:
1) Hue’s first-person account, 2) a third-person ‘storyteller’ version, and 3) a one-man show.
The story is also available as a Screenplay, a Book Manuscript and an audio CD: Songs from Hue Manatee’s Quest.


“My folks named me Herald
My friends call me ‘Hue’
So can you”

With these words, our gentle hero Hue Manatee introduces himself to us and a new friend, the somewhat cynical but endearing itinerant musician, Flickati Cricket, who has witnessed Hue’s close call with a boat propeller. The two exchange similar accounts of run-ins with the ‘Two-legged Ones’, and share an awareness of each’s own deteriorating environment. Determined to be proactive, they decide to seek the insight and counsel of wise old Leon Chameleon, a renowned teacher and change agent.

Leon, about to depart on a long journey, invites the two young ones to accompany him, as an educational field trip, which soon develops into a global odyssey. The adventure ultimately evolves into Hue’s personal quest, re-energizes Flickati’s musical mission, and provides Leon a long-dreamed-of pilgrimage to his ancestral roots, The Galápagos.

Along the way, the peripatetic trio meet and share songs, as well as assorted perils with such charismatic characters as Whale and a Dolphin Trio; Ella Condor, Southern Hemisphere medicine woman of the Todos Tribe, and Shining Eagle, Northern Hemisphere shaman of the Imáji Nation; and finally, upon reaching their destination, the popular Galápagosian vocal quintet, Acapellago.

Durst balances the score both with original songs and some collected from several composer friends, to create a rich and varied musical experience that inspires and uplifts while conveying its message of environmental urgency.

Scene One (A Close Call & A New Friend)

When the peace of Hue‘s idyllic habitat (The Rosey Years –Pham Duy/Durst) is shattered by a close call with a boat propeller, he breaks the surface of the water to see what it was that frightened him so. On the nearby bank, wandering musician Flickati Cricket is no mute witness to the near-disaster, but rather highly agitated, vocal and accusatory. “Irresponsible Bi-peds!” she sputters.

Curious, Hue ventures to introduce himself (My Friends Call Me Hue) and the two, like many opposites, are drawn to one another. “Hue, as in ‘colorful'”, he offers, humbly. He tells his new acquaintance that he has been noticing adverse changes in his environment. Flickati nods in sympathetic knowing, allowing as how in her travels she has seen much of the wasteful disregard of the Two-legged Ones. She sings How Do They Sleep?! (Fouling Our Nest). “There must be something we can do,” agrees Hue. Flickati reveals that she has heard of a wise old being named Leon Chameleon, a revered and renowned teacher and ‘change agent.’ The two set off together to seek his counsel.

Scene Two (The Inevitability of Change)

When at last they find him, Leon is busy preparing for a long journey to the Galápagos, and pays them little mind. When pressed for answers to their questions about their changing environment, Leon is at first impatient, stressing that “change is inevitable–we must all learn to adapt.” “Easy for you to say,” remarks Flickati with a touch of sarcasm. Leon softens somewhat and elucidates with This Change Is Everything and is soon joined by his two visitors in lively song and dance. Hue wonders whether this belief is understood and shared by everyone, and Leon explains that each of us tends to have our own unique perspective on truth, which leads to variations in belief systems. But those with similar views seem to find each other in order to support one another. “Even the Two-legged Ones?” inquires Hue. “Especially them,” Leon answers emphatically, and illustrates with Mystery Loves Company.

Hue brings the subject back to his environmental concerns. Leon, it seems, has had some past contact with the Two-legged Ones, having long ago been a discarded pet.  Although with the passing of time he has developed a philosophy of ‘live and let live’. More recently, however, he cannot help but be aware of bi-pedal incursion into natural habitats and their wasteful use of resources.

Leon reveals his plans to journey to the Galápagos, his ancestral homeland of which he has only heard but never seen. Recognizing an opportunity to teach once again and impart elements of his lifelong wisdom and experience to a new generation, perhaps for the last time, he invites Hue and Flickati to join him on his journey for a field trip with an agenda of collecting data and support along the way. They accept excitedly.

Scene Three (In the Imáji Nation)

Before departing, Leon takes the youngsters to meet the Northern Hemisphere shaman of the Imáji Nation, Shining Eagle, to bless their journey, who shares observations of traditional native wisdom, and sings O Blue Planet. The entire company joins in on the final refrain. Shining Eagle presents the travelers with a magic feather that, along with a healthy dose of levity, enables them to counter gravity and ascend toward their destination.

Scene Four (The Odyssey Begins)

As the peripatetic trio begins their journey, Hue asks Leon to tell them more about the Two-legged Ones. “How are they different from us beings?” he inquires. “Well, whereas we beings dwell in the eternal present,” Leon explains, “the Bi-peds seem to spend an awful lot of time in what they call the Past and the Future.” To illustrate his point, Leon conjures up a parable, materializing the spirits of the mythical Hansel & Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood and Goldilocks to join him in singing Lost In The Kuda Shuda Woods.

Scene Five (Onward and Outward)

As the odyssey gathers steam, covering air, land and sea, the magic feather is somehow lost as the three fall precipitously toward the ocean. Rescued by Whale, they meet and share songs with a Dolphin Trio (I Am A Dolphin –Jay Mankita) whose harrowing tale is reinforced visually by multimedia support. Whale ponders the question of why man can’t leave him, a distant cousin, alone. He sings his Whale Soliloquy.

El Condor Pasa utilizes the traditional Andean music and Spanish words to support a colorful dance production to accompany the dramatic flying entrance of Ella Condor, the Southern Hemisphere medicine woman of the Todos tribe. She offers to deliver the three travelers to their destination. They climb aboard her massive back and take the sky once again. From high above the planet they observe that there are no borders (“no fronteras”) and that in fact, all are equal (“todos iguales”). She leads them in singing Somos El Barco/We Are The Boat (–Lorre Wyatt), inviting all present, including the audience, to sing along on the refrain.

CURTAIN/End of Act One

Journey’s End

Arriving at last in the Galápagos, Leon, Flickati and Hue meet a kind of ‘street corner’ vocal quintet well-known around the islands as Acapellago. They treat the travelers to a rousing 5-part rendition of All Gaia’s Critters Got A Place in The Choir (–Bill Staines). Leon enrolls the five as associate instructors to assist him in teaching his young charges about the vital role of The Rain Forest (–Jim Scott) as the indefatigable lungs of Gaia in the interwoven tapestry of Life.

Soon Leon reveals his personal reason for wishing to visit his ancestral home, as he has been aware for a while that his time is running out on this plane of existence. Hue is distraught that Leon should be departing at this moment in Hue’s still evolving awareness. Leon explains about Life’s intrinsic characteristic of self-renewal in Cycle Song Of Life (The River Song) and reminds them to consult their inner teacher for the answers to their questions.

Buoyed with renewed self-confidence and sense of purpose, Flickati decides it’s time to take off on her own, to express herself as a fiddler/singer as a means to alert all who will hear her message of peace and environmental urgency. She sings Flickati’s Farewell to her friend Hue, which evolves into Friends Don’t Say Goodbye, supported by the gathered ensemble.

Dusk settles over them, and the evening star appears. Hue is the first to notice and softly begins to sing Starlight Star Bright. He’s joined one by one, leading into the closing strains, fully and harmoniously sung by all present, as darkness envelops the company and the starlit heavens sparkle over one and all a canopy of incandescent hope and calm.


THE CHARACTERS (in order of appearance)

Hue Manatee Docile, gentle, sensitive, vegetarian adolescent/young adult male manatee with a positive, ever-hopeful outlook–a kind of sea-going Candide. Innocent, curious, intelligent but humble.

Storyteller/Bard (Optional) Mature presence engages audience á la Our Town‘s Stage Manager. Member of the band.

Flickati Cricket: Hue’s new best friend and traveling companion; somewhat cynical, yet endearing female fiddler/singer (adolescent/young adult) with a bit of an attitude. A musician facing a crisis of direction and purpose.

Leon Chameleon, C.A.: Renowned teacher and change agent, mentor to Hue and Flickati, kind of an amalgam of Yoda, Voltaire’s Dr. Pangloss and actor-comedian/musician Jimmy Durante.

Shining Eagle: Northern Hemisphere shaman of the Imáji Nation. Regal, wise yet lighthearted.

Hansel & Gretel, Little Red Riding Hood & Goldilocks: Cameo appearances by mythical characters to illustrate Leon’s parable, Lost In The Kuda Shuda Woods.

Dolphin Trio (‘Trio Life’): Female singers, or Soprano, Alto & Tenor

Whale: Male bass-baritone

Ella Condor: Medicine woman of the Southern Hemisphere Todos tribe. A wise crone.

Acapellago (Galápagosian ‘street corner’ quintet): Consists of 5 previously listed cast members differently costumed. An array of appropriate mammals, birds, amphibians and reptiles.

THE BAND: Piano/Keyboard, Drums/Percussion, Bass, Guitar/s, Horn/s.  ADDITIONAL CHORAL SINGERS are optional to provide a kind of ‘Green Chorus.’

Male Adolescent/Young Adult: Hue Manatee
Female Adolescent/Young Adult: Flickati Cricket (Singer/fiddler)
Mature Male: Leon Chameleon
Bass-baritone: Whale, Acapellago & Manatee family
Tenor: Shining Eagle, Hansel, Dolphin, Acapellago & Manatee family
Mezzo-soprano: Dolphin, Little Red Riding Hood, Acapellago & Manatee family
Alto: Ella Condor, Gretel, Dolphin, Acapellago & Manatee family
Soprano: Goldilocks, Dolphin, Acapellago & Manatee family