‘So Strong’ is a combination of things. The whole album is saying where I am and what’s going on in my life. That’s the Message - Jonathan Butler.
JazzReview: Your new CD ‘So Strong’ is an amazing compilation of hope, inspiration, joy and romance.
Jonathan Butler: Thank you. You said that so well. I love the way it came together. All I wanted to do was to play something that sounded good and which had this flavor because so much has been going on in my personal life. I didn’t want to do a record that had a kind of down feeling about it. I was glad to come out of a few things. You know I had the loss of my mother, my wife is a cancer survivor and a good friend of mine, Wayman Tisdale, passed away. I went into my studio and begin nibbling on ideas. All of these ideas were leading me to the songs on the album. I had one issue I thought about, my spirituality, my faith aspect of it. I didn’t want to do a smooth jazz record. I wanted to do something with an urban feel and these songs really followed me.
JazzReview: You mention having a difficult and tragic year, but through all of the struggles and ups and downs you always mentioned your faith.
Jonathan Butler: That’s what I can honestly say, that’s where my strength is, that’s where my hope is and that’s where my beliefs are. Like I said, I didn’t want to do a smooth jazz record. I didn’t want to walk down a road that was very familiar. As a matter of fact I got quite discouraged from smooth jazz. In a way I didn’t like where it was going, it wasn’t inspiring me, something wasn’t right.
I wanted to let people know I am a singer first and then a guitar player. It got to a point in my career where people thought I was a guitar player and not a singer. I am a singer first, before I even picked up a guitar, when I was a kid. It’s nice to have a CD where people are listening to your vocals. This is a record where I return to where I started in R&B and the instruments have a really cool flavor. I am so inspired by people like George Benson and Stevie Wonder as well as a lot of other people. I am so inspired by my heroes. I wanted to play more to balance and encourage people. Through songs like ‘Good Times’ and ‘For My Baby’ it shows a different Jonathan Butler who is playing grooves that are incredibly soulful and emotional.
JazzReview: This is album number 15. Wow !!
Jonathan Butler: Yes, I believe it is (laughter). I have had records out in South Africa since I was 12. It’s crazy! I can’t believe someone took the time to actually do a count but I am so grateful for it because I am going to be 49 this year and to still be making records and doing what I love to do is a beautiful thing. I am extremely grateful for it. The music business is so crazy today. Back in the day they were giving out record deals to everyone. You have to be grateful to be in the game so to speak.
JazzReview: Exactly, especially today.
Jonathan Butler: Yes, especially today. Like I said, people like Stevie Wonder and George Benson, especially Stevie, have inspired me and made me feel that as long as you put out good music there will always be a listener out there who will want to hear it. There were records that Stevie did that were not real hits but those were the songs that people love today. He really inspired that in me. To keep going, make good music and follow your heart.
I’ve never considered myself a formula or format type of artist. I really pretty much do what I want to do in the season that I’m in. I’m very happy about the CD. The songs translate so well live. I get a kick out of doing them live. I feel like it’s time for me to hang up some of the old suits and bring out the new guy.
JazzReview: We like a little bit of both (laughter).
Jonathan Butler: Well, I won’t get away without singing ‘Sarah, Sarah’ (laughter). I do understand that. It’s nice and refreshing to be able to take the fans on a different jam and say Hey! There are some new stories to tell.
JazzReview: I’ve been around a while but we won’t discuss that but in all your projects there is always one song that stands head and shoulder above the rest. For me, this time, bar none, the track is the anthem ‘You’ve Got To Believe In Something’.
Jonathan Butler: Oh Man, thank you so very much. Talk about translating something live and enriching people’s heart. That song translates so well live. I’m on tour right now with Dave Koz and Sheila E as a guest. Oh my goodness. That song is a bold song. It makes you feel good. If people are confused as to whether I’m saved they just have to listen to that song and get a sense that I completely, completely love the Lord.
I do really want people to get the whole Jonathan Butler. Not just that he’s a Christian but he is R&B, he is jazz, he is African music, he is Gospel music and, that’s the thing, I think the record brings all of that together. It brings my personality to the album. I love that song very, very much.
JazzReview: Your album reaffirms your status as an accomplished song writer and it also showcases your love for your South African heritage.
Jonathan Butler: Absolutely, I will never be able to escape that. That’s just like waking up in the morning and having breakfast. It’s just part of me. I have been away from my country for so long but yet deep inside there’s all these ancestral conversations. Last night I was sitting round the yard with my wife (she’s from South Africa), and some other South African friends, and talking about the 4th of July. We have 45 people coming to the house. South Africans are not afraid of a party (laughter). So I will continue to have South Africa in my music. South Africa will always be in my conversation and my music.
I have embraced who I am. Some people, when they come to a country, want to lose their identity, they want to lose who they are. It’s important to keep hold of who you are and never lose sight of that.
JazzReview: What does ‘So Strong’ mean to you?
Jonathan Butler: I think outside of the song being so fun, happy and dance oriented, ‘So Strong’ really does reflect this period of our lives; my wife and my life. The title is really bold but I can say that what comes out of it, what it’s reflective of, are the things in which I strongly believe. It just happens that ‘So Strong’ is what it is. When I started thinking about the song in the studio I started immediately thinking how the church will really love this message of So Strong. Then for some reason God said, stop limiting yourself and think about how it’s going to make someone feel when getting into their car on Monday morning or Friday afternoon and listening to the CD. And you know what; it’s so much fun to do on stage and so much fun to be out there. And, even though I’m heading towards 49, I’m still listening to what’s out there on the radio and streets. I’m still reaching out to grow as an artist. Just last week I was sharing the stage with Keith Sweat. It was old school R&B.
‘So Strong’ is a combination of things. The whole album is saying where I am and what’s going on in my life. That’s the message.
JazzReview: You’ve put together a great list of guests on the CD. You have Rick Braun, Dave Koz, Sheila E, Michael Lington, Gordon Campbell and your daughters Randy and Jodie.
Jonathan Butler: Yes, I haven't really had a lot of guest on a CD for a while now. It’s nice to have close friends involved. I tried to get Alicia Keyes but we couldn’t get it together. I tried Angie Stone and of course that worked out. I called my friends Rick, Dave and Michael Lington. It made it more of a family affair and it was nice. Thank God to the label who were very open to the idea of having Angie Stone. These days the budgets aren’t what they use to be. If I got the people that I wanted I wouldn’t have any money left (laughter).
This has been really cool to have all my friends on the album. I actually did a song with Dave on his new CD which will be coming out this year. It’s nice to help each other out.
JazzReview: I read your bio and you started performing very young. Who would you say inspired you, whether they are still with us or deceased?
Jonathan Butler: I was at the radio station the other day. I did an hour interview and co-hosted. Stevie Wonder is the one person on this planet that I want to work with on my record or on his record. He will always be the inspiration. He has proved that there is no limit to what you can do if you just stay open and take the limits off. He’s a song writer, an artist, a jazz musician, a harmonica player, a piano player. I listened to Stevie being a guest star on Tony Bennett’s record and on Herbie Hancock’s record. I was just blown away and still am blown away to this day by his gift and his experience.
To answer your question Stevie is the one.
JazzReview: I saw your tour schedule and have a question. How do you do it?
Jonathan Butler: Well, I am standing out here in my yard with my running shoes on and I am ready to go work out. That’s what I do. That’s what I have to do to stay on this tour schedule. Flying up and down these days can be tough. You have to dress light to make it (laughter). That’s why I do a little exercise.
JazzReview: What else can we expect from Jonathan Butler? Is there another album in the works?
Jonathan Butler: Yes, I’m doing two albums next year. I’ve already started with my first Christmas CD and am very excited about it. I started writing a few songs. These are going to be like original compositions with the traditional Christmas stuff. I want it to be like a Christmas love letter. A Christmas love letter to the world and when the postman drops it off I hope they read it. I’m also doing my first solo gospel CD as well. I am working on both those things.
JazzReview: If I can speak for all the fans of Jonathan Butler, let me just say, don’t stay away too long.
Jonathan Butler: No not at all. I’m a working artist. If they don’t see me, all it means is that I’m running around the airport trying to get to the next gig.
Jonathan Butler infuses his faith and love for life in his new CD ‘So Strong’. You’ll find this amazing album bursting with hope, joy, romance and inspiration. It comes highly recommended.