Families of American music: Tom Chapin, Livingston Taylor to take Amp stage with the Jammin’ Divas

The Taylors are “a great family in American music,” Tom Chapin said.

The Chapins are too, for that matter.

“We share a similar sense about the musicality of our families,” echoed Livingston Taylor. “It’s only in adulthood that I find that other families don’t carry that music.”

Taylor and Chapin both grew up in musical families — and are both the younger brothers of famous musicians (James and Harry, respectively). But they’re both respected musicians in their own right, and at 8:15 p.m. tonight in the  Amphitheater, the singer-songwriters will be returning to Chautauqua Institution for an evening Chapin hopes will be “a sing-along folk festival.”

They’ll be joined on stage by the Jammin’ Divas, a traditional and contemporary folk group whose members hail from Ireland, Australia and the United States.

Both Chapin and Taylor have had storied careers. Chapin began performing with his brothers, Steve and Harry, when they were in their teens, and went on to have what he called two careers: one as a family artist, releasing 13 albums for children (he’s performed as part of the Family Entertainment Series at Chautauqua in the past), and one releasing 10 albums for “grown-ups.” He’s won several Grammy for his work.

Taylor has released nearly 20 albums — the most recent of which, Blue Sky, came out earlier this year — and has been teaching at the Berklee College of Music since 1989.

Similar to their careers, Chapin and Taylor’s friendship also stretches back decades.

“We have always had a bonding, given the fact that we are both siblings of media-exposed brothers,” Taylor said. “So it’s an understanding we both have of what that means, to have careers in the presence of a famous sibling. … The fact is that, for both Tom and myself, what we know is that we are independent, viable, creative musical sources. … It’s an honor to be one of two people who can call James Taylor their brother, and I know Tom feels the same way about Harry.”

The evening’s performances will feature old songs and new, and a few covers, Chapin said — including some Harry Chapin songs. He expects the night to be “festive” — the perfect show for a night in mid-August at Chautauqua.

Someone told Chapin once that a “song is a container,” and when a song is played, everyone within earshot experiencing the music “are all in the same place, hearing the same words and the same notes.” In short, he said, “it’s magical.”

“The older I get, the more I realize what a lucky thing it is to be a musician,” he said. “People come to hear us play, and we all have a chance to be part of the same connection. It’s a great delight. … To get a bunch of people in a place, to be connected to the music and the story — not a lot of things in the world are like that.”

The relationship between the audience and the musician is a precious one, Taylor said.

“Your audience isn’t your problem; it’s your salvation,” he said. “That’s not diminished with age — it’s a feeling that just increases, with intensity. I am simply joyful in the presence of my audience in ways that I never was when I started my career. You become more aware of how precious that relationship is.”

Both Taylor and Chapin have had careers that focus heavily on music, but there’s some variations; Chapin’s a public school advocate, for example, and a children’s book author and storyteller, while Taylor teaches, “I write, I philosophize, I go on adventures.”  The common thread, though, the thing that makes everything else possible, he said, is always music.

“A musical sense, a musical ability, is the underpinning that allows you to go on the fantastic journey,” Taylor said. “It is music that gives you the road map back home.”