Part environmentalist, part peace activist, and fully able to capture hearts and minds with insight and humor, singer-songwriter Jim Scott made the rounds through the Garden State with a pair of concerts this weekend. A lifelong Unitarian Universalist, Scott performed Friday night in Titusville at the UU Church at Washington Crossing and Saturday evening at The Unitarian Society in East Brunswick.
Scott achieved broad fame during his many years with the Paul Winter Consort, with whom he co-wrote the Missa Gaia/Earth Mass. He’s performed for more than 40 years, playing onstage with John Denver, Joan Baez, 10,000 Maniacs — and frequently with one of his biggest musical and social mentors, Pete Seeger. His musical DNA is fused by jazz, folk, and even classical influences.
But some Unitarian Universalists might know him best — if not by name, then by tune — for Number 347 in the gray UU hymnal: “Gather the Spirit.” It’s one of seven Scott compositions in the two UU hymnals currently in circulation.
Audience in his palm
Scott’s performances mix music, storytelling, and audience involvement. Friday night, he achieved all three with “There’s a Way” — his live-and-let-live take on life — holding his audience captive through a lengthy series of rounds. Scott hit lighter notes with “The Rainforest Song,” a tune he composed with a group of elementary school children. He marveled at the human spirit when he talked of his participation in a 1986 cross-country walk for nuclear disarmament.
His bent for activism goes back a long way. As co-chair of the UU 7th Principle Project, Scott helped to develop the Unitarian Universalist Association Green Sanctuary Program for congregations. He received a grant from the Fund for Unitarian Universalism to develop the Earth and Spirit Songbook, an anthology of songs of ecological harmony and peace.
So it’s little wonder that Scott clicks so well with James Durst, who shared the stage with Scott Friday night. Durst, who has performed in 45 countries, uses his craft to communicate global and social concerns common to us all, including environmental sustainability, peace, and human understanding.
Durst won friends with his self-deprecating “Internationally Unknown” (“I have no paparazzi, and I like that,” he said), but in truth, he’s quite accomplished in his own right. Performing around the globe for the better part of 50 years, Durst has composed more than 230 songs; has been a member of the German-language cast of Hair, in Munich; and even beat a then-unknown banjo player/comedian named Steve Martin in the finals of a California folk music contest in 1965.
Friday night, Durst paid a moving tribute to Pham Duy, whom he characterized as Vietnam’s own Woody Guthrie. Durst and Duy met while performing together in Vietnam in 1974 in a State Department-backed tour. Duy was on the last U.S. chopper out of Saigon in 1975 and continued his friendship with Durst in America. Eventually, the two translated each other’s songs into their native tongues and published a bilingual songbook.
Pham died recently at the age of 93. Friday night, Durst sang “Qua Cao Gio Bay” (“Wind on the Bridge”) in Vietnamese and English in memory of his friend.
“Not an act”
Durst and Scott have played together many times, and their fondness for one another is evident in their on-stage interaction. But Scott insisted, “We’re not an act” — just two friends who share similar musical and social values. Those values and the people behind them meld to create an evening that’s poignant, thoughtful, and simply fun. Watch for them at a coffeehouse, music festival, or a UU congregation in your neighborhood.
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