Interview: Jonathan Butler Talks “Raising Eyebrows” and “Bringing Something Fresh” on “Soul of Summer” Tour
Jonathan Butler talks to YouKnowIGotSoul about his “Soul of Summer” tour, fans anticipating this type of show, his vision for putting the show together, the reception from the audiences, his album “So Strong”, his legacy in music, and what’s next.
YouKnowIGotSoul: You’ve recently been on the “Soul of Summer” tour. Talk about that.
Jonathan Butler: Yes, we’re still on the road and we’re actually still doing things right now. We’re hitting the road and doing something I’d consider a little different. It’s called the “Soul of Summer” because we kinda of pay tribute to a lot of the music of the 60’s and 70’s and 80’s which is our music. It’s a good flavor and kind of lets the smooth jazz audience experience us before we were adopted into smooth jazz. I started out in r&b and Maysa is r&b and Eric Darius is sort of into contemporary jazz so it’s a really great combination of what the three of us do. Also in the middle of the show we kinda unplug and strip everything down and do a little Curtis Mayfield and Donny Hathaway, people who I think the smooth jazz community hasn’t heard music from. It’s kind of a fun thing; we’re having a lot of fun with it right now.
YKIGS: I was reading in the press released that you were digging up soul music from the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, which you mentioned, and stuff people haven’t heard in years. Do you feel that music fans were longing for this type of show?
JB: You know, I think yes they were. We played half of the jazz festival which is such a successful jazz festival which is in its 49th year, and that’s where we started the unplugged thing and we had 14,000 people singing “People Get Ready”. That just kind of was really encouraging to me because it’s sort of a vision I had and I knew that after doing all of these shows with jazz my friends, I think that this is something a little different and maybe needed. You’ve got to try and raise eyebrows somehow and bring something different and bring something fresh and introduce people to a music that you started with. That’s what’s fun about this.
YKIGS: I read that this is your first time producing a show like this. Do you feel that so far the shows have been going according to your vision and have been a success?
JB: I feel like it is. Would I love to do more shows? Absolutely. We are just getting our toes wet in the market right now. Of course touring is not what it used to be so you have a few challenges in that but you’ve got to keep evolving and you’ve got to keep doing something different. What I love about what this is that it’s a little bit of a different twist and a different spin because people aren’t just getting smooth jazz, but they’re actually getting a little kind of tribute to some of the great artists who made great music. I think next year, we will probably see definitely a spike in doing more cities and enriching more people with this type of concept.
YKIGS: How has the reception been from audiences you’ve performed for so far?
JB: Amazing, amazing! From start to finish it’s just energy. It’s total, total energy and I think people are absolutely floored and they just love it. It bridges that gap of gospel as well, not just r&b, it kind of bridges that gap of spiritually where I am all of the time. It gives people all of that and we’ve just been getting absolutely amazing response.
YKIGS: Last year you released the album “So Strong”. Talk about the album.
JB: “So Strong” is like a return to Jonathan Butler doing r&b stuff and stuff that I used to do; so I wanted to do a classic type r&b type of record where I’m singing more. There are not a lot of instrumentals, there are probably only four instrumentals, but the rest of the album is vocal, it’s r&b, it’s just staying relevant in the music business. Having that relevancy is important to me instead of taking a backseat and just doing what I’ve been known to do all of the years. I like to kind of push my own envelope to take myself to different places.
YKIGS: You’ve been making music for so long and you’ve been in the industry for so long and have had a lot of success. What do you see as your legacy so far in the music industry?
JB: It’s sustainability, I’m not in it for the hit, I’m living it because this is all I know how to do. Making a good name for myself is more valuable than earthly treasures and I hope that my legacy would be that the name Jonathan Butler is a good name. I’m very much more concerned about that than anything else because when you have a good name in this business, you will always be on the road and can love what you do. Like everything else, you’ve got to keep turning the soil. You may not have as great as success on a record this year, but that doesn’t mean you stop; you just keep turning soil until you find that thing that connects with the audience. I’ve sort of gone full circle from r&b/pop/jazz to now gospel. Now, I’m sort of in the place that I’ve always wanted to be and that is ministry within the place that I’m in. People are receiving me just the way I am and church is receiving me just the way I am so I think I kinda have to walk my own road and figure this out with God to navigate me to where he wants me to be. I’m really, really happy.
YKIGS: What’s next for you?
JB: I’m actually starting a new gospel record and I’ve been writing for these past few months preparing for another gospel album. This will be my third gospel record, so that’s what I’m working on right now. I will also be working on another jazz project; my kids seem to think I should do a world music record, so I might end up doing that. This is the thing about it all, I’m not done, there’s a book inside of me, there’s music inside of me, there’s a jazz album inside of me. I’m not done, I don’t feel like I’m done, I feel like I’m just discovering myself with what I do and what I need to do.