Category: News

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.

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.


Words and Music by John Fisher & James Durst
© 2000 PhoeniXongs ASCAP

Well, we need more food for our hungry ones
It takes a lot of work to get the job done
We need more food by the tons and tons
What we don’t need is any more guns

Well, we need education for our younger ones
It takes a lot of work to get the job done
We need better schools for our daughters and our sons
What we don’t need is any more guns

‘Cause any more guns is many more tears
We’ve got enough guns for a thousand years
Shut the factories, then retool
Not another gun for another damn fool

Well, we need to clean the river of the pollution
It takes a lot of work to get the job done
We need to dredge up the poison where the Hudson runs
What we don’t need is any more guns

‘Cause any more guns is many more tears
We’ve got enough guns for a thousand years
Shut the factories, then retool
Not another gun for another damn fool

‘Cause guns don’t hammer and guns don’t saw
They don’t help build anything at all
They can’t help a seed grow tall into the sky
They only make people bleed
They only make people die

We must declare our independence from petroleum
It takes a lot of work to get the job done
We need to harness up the power of the water, wind and sun
What we don’t need is any more guns

‘Cause any more guns is many more tears
We’ve got enough guns for a thousand years
Shut the factories, then retool
Not another gun for another damn fool

HEAR ‘Not Another Gun’

2010 in Retrospect / Holiday Greeting

December 2010

The Bengali song Duranta Ghurnir (it means “Life is a whirlwind,” more or less) that Madhumita and I sing together on my Internationally Unknown CD could be this past year’s theme song. We made 3 international trips: Egypt in February (belated honeymoon), Israel in May (we performed 12 concerts in 9 days) and then India to visit family in Kolkata for 10 days at the end of October/beginning of November. Returning home November 6th (my fifty-fifteenth natal observation), our connecting flight in Delhi departed just after midnight, arriving at JFK soon after 6:30am — so with all the time zonal changes, I actually enjoyed around a 33-hour birthday. And  since most folks were not traveling on the Diwali holiday, our half-full return flight afforded each and every one of us 3 seats across which to stretch our languid forms in relative luxury.

Our Israel trip got off to a rip-roaring start when upon arrival I discovered that Delta had managed to separate the neck from the body of my guitar. Some feat considering my travel case, specially-designed for  checking as baggage, had been back and forth to India 5 times, Israel twice before, and countless other destinations without incident. Good news was that our friends Michal & Bob Mark at nearby Neveh Shalom/Wahat al Salaam had only just met a young furniture designer who also builds guitars, and so my new best friend Essi managed to perform the miraculous re-attachment surgery — literally overnight — to get us back on the road without missing a beat. And he refused to accept payment for his work! And then after a coupla months Delta acknowledged its culpability and coughed up a reasonable balm for my anguish, thereby also avoiding public embarrassment on YouTube from my already half-composed Delta Blues. “Yes,” they said, “we’re aware of the United Breaks Guitars viral video on YouTube.” Case closed (and guitar safely stowed within). Speaking of YouTube, you can go there to see & hear highlights from several of our performances that included some Bedouin and Arab schools, the African Refugee Center & the Arab-Jewish Center in Yaffo. Also the Folk Clubs in Karmiel, Tel Aviv and Kibbutz Tzora, as well as the Jacobs Ladder Festival on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. What’s the Hebrew word for whirlwind?

In Egypt we plied the Nile by hotel boat, communing with pharoahs and queens, mummies and monuments from Luxor to Cairo, where we pierced the darkened heart of the Second Pyramid with our presence and annoyed some camels with the same. Upon arrival we were momentarily confused when our charming guide Abdel invited us to “make chicken,” until we realized he was simply asking us to check in.

October 1st Madhumita concluded her employment at Covidien after a 2.5-year tenure, and is presently in job-seek mode. Departure gifts from Covidien have given her a modicum of breathing room in which to find a new position. We are optimistic. Alas, I never got around to proposing to Covidien — a surgical supply company — my idea for a home surgery kit, to be called (wait for it) “Suture Self.”

We drove to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving and Mom’s 92nd birthday, stayed awhile, then Madhumita flew home while I drove between the snowflakes circuitously homeward via Chicago, Memphis, Little Rock, Dallas and Tulsa before turning the horse toward the barn. My legendary weather karma kept me virtually dry the whole way.

I continue to gain color and strength — and weight — as I enjoy my ongoing recovery from last year’s medical detour, and am nearly back to what we euphemistically call “normal.” Projects abound and 2011 promises to be a productive year. We wish the same for you.

With much Love from Here,
James & Madhumita

Home from India Safe & Sound

6 November 2010

Departing Kolkata around 8pm on the 5th, we arrived in New Delhi for a brief layover before catching our connecting flight back to New York just after 1am. Thus began my longest birthday ever which, when spanned across 9.5 time zones following the path of the sun, amounted to somewhere around 33 hours when all the candles were finally extinguished at the tail end of the day. Add an hour for the return to Standard Time, and you’ve got yet another bonus. An extra 10 hours or so to contemplate one’s successful arrival at ‘retirement age.’ REtirement, hell! I’m not even tired yet! In many ways I feel as though I’m just hitting my stride. If you must know, I’m fifty-fifteen.

Having once again survived the adrenalin rush of Kolkata traffic, where lane separations are non-existent and taxis and cars jockey for advantage with buses and trucks, often spilling over into opposing traffic, in a cacophony of the Chaos Theory in practice, I distracted myself from the death-defying crosstown foray by putting pen to page as we flew through the fray (in much the same way that my Song From Slovenia came into being between Maribor and Ljubljana in 1972). Here’s the result:

Not for the weak of will
Nor the fainthearted
Kolkata traffic jam–
Don’t get me started
I and my latest meal
Shall soon be parted

We surge, we thrust, we jab
And beg the question
Is that red traffic light
Just a suggestion?
Kolkata traffic jam
Impedes digestion

Kolkata traffic jam
Show some compassion
Before my awe-filled eyes
My life is flashin’

White knuckle sandwiches
‘Twixt bus and lorry
Where angels fear to tread
We’re bound for glory
But they do this every day
Why should I worry?!

Kolkata traffic jammed
Intensely lyrical
Angelic evidence
Densely empirical
Another day unscathed
Another miracle!

Kolkata traffic jam
Show some compassion
Before my awe-filled eyes
My life is flashin’

–James Durst
30-31 October 2010 © 2010

29 OCT: This human gumbo called India

Have just returned to the family home in Birati from visiting both Ramakrishna Mission and Dakshineshwar Temple  earlier this evening, located on opposite sides of the Ganges, from the banks of which we dipped toes into the roiling waters. Oh, the humanity…!
My sixth visit to India and Kolkata specifically since 2000, and I think I’m finally beginning to be able to maintain a relatively steady heartbeat in traffic. Breathe in, breathe out and repeat. It helps that my brother-in-law Partha is a better-than-competent driver, just assertive enough to compete with the lunatics on all sides.

I have great and growing affection for this undulating human gumbo called India and am feeling overwhelming gratitude to have this family, both the immediate and the genomic, in my life. Would that I could transmit the impressionistic tapestry that fills my senses with pungency and cacophony. These leave me overwhelmed as well.

And well is what it all is. I hope you are the same.