Singer, songwriter and guitarist Jonathan Butler is currently performing with Dave Koz in their Together Again Tour that also features percussionist Sheila E. The tour visits Harrah’s Resort on Friday, June 18. Butler, a native of South Africa, had his international breakthrough with the Grammy-nominated hit single “Lies” in 1987. Butler has a new album out, So Strong. The inspirational songs on the album feature his R&B side. The album debuted at No. 2 on Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart and No. 7 on the Jazz Albums Chart. In a phone conversation with AC Weekly, Butler talks about his current tour and album.
You grew up during apartheid in South Africa. How important was your music in surviving that difficult period?
Music was very important to me. It was the means of an escape. It was a means of salvation. It just gave me great peace of mind and I could draw great strength from it. I needed that more than anything.
Tell us about your new album So Strong. What were some of your inspirations for the songs you wrote?
I wanted to do an urban record, a straight up R&B type of record. I didn’t focus on smooth jazz at all and I wanted to be more vocal. I also wanted it to be a lot of fun, to have great feelings and great flavor. I’ve gone through a lot. The loss of my mother, the loss of a great friend, [jazz great and NBA star] Wayman Tisdale, my wife being a cancer survivor … so I wanted the record to be light and fun. It was time to rejoice. Making the album was therapeutic.
Now tell us about your current tour with Dave Koz. What can the audience expect?
Dave and I are just good, good friends. We were together iin Japan, Dubai and South Africa last year, and he said, why not just tour the summer together. I said, ‘Cool. Let’s do it.’ It’s a great band. I’m going to do quite a bit of the new stuff although I’m not going to leave the old stuff out. And I will be sharing the stage with Dave. We have great chemistry. Working on stage with Dave … we almost finish each other’s sentences musically.
You music has a lot of labels — soul, smooth jazz, R&B, world beat … How do you describe it?
I’m an artist. I express myself in whatever season I find myself. I really go into the season with a white canvas, not putting any limits on my thoughts, my feelings toward the music or what I want to say. There is enough on the So Strong CD to let people know who I am and what my personality is like and what I think about spiritually as well. I don’t like to be a formula type artist, where you say he’s R&B, or he’s gospel or he’s this. I’ve always lived my life that way.
Jonathan Butler does "We Need You Lord" at the University of Alabama during the Gospel Goes Classical Concert, 2006:
What’s next for you after this tour?
I’ll continue with [my own] tour right into January. I do the Smooth Jazz Cruise for two weeks sailing to the Caribbean with Marcus Miller, David Sanborn and Joe Sample. I’m also working on a gospel record and I’m also working on a Christmas project, which I haven’t done before. A lot of it will be original music.
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