By Darlene Donloe
For the first time in his long and storied career, jazz guitarist and vocalist, Jonathan Butler (So Strong) has put together his own ‘Soul of Summer’ concert tour, featuring singer Maysa and saxophonist Eric Darius.
Butler, who is originally from South Africa, recently said he, Maysa (A Woman in Love) and Darius (On A Mission) are doing the tour to pay tribute to some of the most unforgettable soul music of all time.
The trio, who have been touring various venues around the country this summer, are set to bring their act to the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Summer Jazz Festival on Aug. 5.
Other cities set to get the tour include Temecula, San Diego, Richmond, VA, Detroit and the Bay area in Northern California. Previous stops included Memphis, Phoenix, Cincinnati, Hampton, VA and San Francisco.
Some of Butler’s hits include Falling In Love With Jesus, Sarah, Sarah; "Lies" and "Holding On."
I caught up with Butler, who vacillates between gospel, smooth jazz and R&B, to talk about the tour.
DD: Why did you want to do this tour?
JB: I wanted to do something on my own. It was a great way to present a package tour of music I love and artists I love. Fans can hear our current things. I have 15 CDs. I have a lot of music. I chose this music. It fits well with Maysa. She’s working with Angela Bofill. She sings her music in the show. There is a good flow. I want to do this kind of tour year end and year out.
DD: Why did you choose Maysa and Eric Darius for your first tour?
JB: I like her music. I love her voice. We’ve been friends for awhile. Maysa sang with me awhile back on my Do You Love Me CD and I recently worked with Eric on a jazz cruise. I’d worked with them both and had wonderful experiences. With both of them as part of the tour, I don’t need to sweat. It’s a great mixture.
DD: So chemistry was important?
JB: It was important that we all vibed well together because my concept for ‘The Summer of Soul’ is unlike other all-star shows. Instead of just playing our hits, we are going to take the audience on a journey through the very best of the soul music from the 60s, 70s, 80s and right on up to the present. We’re going to be digging up some gems that people love but haven’t heard in years! I have my daughter Jodie also on background. We have some fresh energy.
DD: So, who else will we hear?
JB: This is a tribute to music by people like Curtis Mayfield, Angela Bofill, Donny Hathaway, Stevie Wonder, plus our own original thing. It’s an urban thing we’re doing. We’re doing a mixture of instrumental and R&B. We’re paying tribute. People will get the great experience of a great live concert. We have an unplug set where we talk about the early influences. We show our age in the middle of the show.
DD: You’ve worked with a lot of artists.
JB: I’ve worked with Dave Koz, Rick Braun, Jazz Attack, George Duke, Will Downing and more. I decided it’s time for me to do something on my own and now is as good a time as ever.
DD: I read where you said this was a return to your R&B roots. So, where have you been?
JB: If you know me, people following me over the years have experienced me going from R&B to gospel to something like the Story of Life. I’m always turning the soil in search of myself. It’s just what artists do.
DD: At one point you were singing a little bit of everything.
JB: For a while what I was singing is not what I was feeling or where I was going. It’s about spiritually and knowing what’s right. It’s about not letting labels tell you to write songs about things that don’t’ gel with your beliefs. The one thing close to my heart was turning my heart to South Africa where I was from. It was a departure from R&B and about really reaching my roots.
I didn’t want to right another ‘Sarah, Sarah’. I was maturing in the industry. That’s why I departed from R&B.
DD: Tell me about your gospel music.
JB: Gospel is my true calling. It took me a long time to accept my calling. God has called me to share gospel through music. I’m in a unique position. I’m walking a parallel universe of being in church on Sunday and at the Hyatt on Saturday blessing people who did not to go to church on Sunday. I have to do Falling In Love With Jesus or people will get mad.
DD: Why did you name your current CD, So Strong?
JB: I wanted it to be playful and strong, nothing deep. I’m an optimistic type of guy. I have a lot to be positive about.
DD: What are you trying to say with So Strong?
JB: We all go through ups and downs and tough times. A couple of years ago my wife, Barenese, was diagnosed with cancer, I lost my mother, lost my good friend, Wayman Tisdale. I had no idea I had a record inside of me. I had no music inside of me at the time. I was consumed with my wife. We’ve been married 29 years. We were facing a challenge. Our faith was tried. Losing my mother – I did not know how I was going to deal with that. This album emerged. I didn’t want to do an instrumental. I wanted to sing. This album came together. This was the right title. Barenese is healed and is back to normal. Music is therapeutic.
DD: How do you write a song? Do you keep a tape recorder with you?
JB: While I’m driving I may have an idea. I sing the idea into the phone. Often times they disappear. They are either good or bad. Sometimes I’ll wake up with an idea.
DD: Tell me about the Jonathan Butler Safari you’re doing in South Africa, Nov. 5-12.
JB: I’ve been doing jazz cruises. They approached me and said, ‘We would love for you to host a safari to South Africa.’ I’m a proud South African. I couldn’t believe it. I jumped onboard. It’s going to be 40 people who are going to travel with me on South African Airways. I will take you to where I grew up, show you my country, taste my food and wine. We’ll visit Cape Town, wineries, Cape Point, townships and Port Elizabeth.
DD: Give us a website where we can get more info.
JB: We have a few spaces left. People can go to
www.Jonathanbutler.com. Going to Africa is going to be a spiritual experience.
For information on the Hyatt Newport Jazz Festival: