Jonathan Butler tours with a new show to keep respect alive for ’80s soul music

By Leslie Wolf

It's hard to believe Jonathan Butler is only 49 years old; the smooth jazz guitarist and singer from South Africa has managed to pack several lifetimes of experience into only a few decades during which he's known both poverty and stardom.

Butler was a child prodigy who learned to play music on a homemade instrument constructed of a can  with one string nailed to a crate. By the time he was 7 years old, Butler was on the road, traveling and performing to support his large family. At the age of 12 he was a bona fide pop star in his home country, with a hit song, “Please Stay,” which won a Sarie Award, the South African version of a Grammy.

After all these years, he's not through touring yet. “The road has been my education, my schooling, my family,” Butler said. “I think this is what I've been called to do. I never get tired of it.”

Butler is gearing up for his next tour, called Soul of Summer, which kicks off April 9 at the J.W. Desert Ridge Jazz Festival in Phoenix. From there Butler and his tour partners, saxophonist Eric Darius and jazz singer Maysa, will move on to Palm Springs, then to the Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Jazz Festival presented by Bank of the West, then on to other dates in Kansas City, Boston and Omaha, among other places. The tour includes a stop at a jazz festival in Angola in July, before returning to play in Temecula, California, at Thornton Winery’s Champagne Jazz Series, and at the Capital Jazz Fest in Columbia, Maryland.

Butler is particularly excited about this tour, he said, because it brings to life a concept he had one year ago, just after he'd finished a tour with Dave Koz. Soul of Summer will be a tribute to the soul music of the 1980s, incorporating some of Butler's own hits of that era as well as the music of others. “We'll be taking people on a journey of soul music,” Butler said.

Beyond that, Butler declined to elaborate on exactly which songs will be featured or other details of the tour. “If I tell you then I let the cat out of the bag,” he said with a laugh. “I totally want to surprise people from the start to the end. People are not going to know what Soul of Summer is all about until we hit the stage,” he added.

Butler did drop a few hints, however. “I think it's good to have something a little different, but not so different that people can't get it,” he said. “I'm just basically producing a show that will take people on a great journey of music that we still need to respect and play. It's going to be cheerful and bright and very inspirational,” he said. “And hopefully it will look good, too.”

Butler has been taking a rare respite from touring. He spent the past two months at home in Los Angeles with his wife of 25 years, Barenese, two of their three grown children and his granddaughter.

Life there couldn't be more different from Butler's childhood in the township of Athlone near Cape Town, where the family lived under Apartheid in a “coloreds-only” neighborhood. With his 12 siblings and 13 nieces and nephews under one roof, the family was very poor, living in a shack made of cardboard and tin. Butler's formal education ended after only four or five years in school.**

**The complete Jonathan Butler story can be found in the April issue of Smooth Jazz News. Pick up your free copy at our radio station affiliates (see radio station page for listings), various concerts, festivals and select Southern California outlets. Or you can subscribe and receive 11 issues of Smooth Jazz News per year, mailed monthly (except January), for $35. Click here to subscribe online today

For more information on Butler, including his complete tour schedule, visit


On Tour

April 9
With Soul of Summer featuring Jonathan Butler, Eric Darius and Maysa
JW Desert Ridge Jazz Festival

JW Marriott Desert Ridge Resort & Spa
5350 E. Marriott Dr.
Phoenix, Arizona
(602) 244-8444

April 10
Grooves in the Grove

La Quinta Resort & Spa
49-499 Eisenhower Dr.
La Quinta, California
(760) 564-4111

May 15
With Soul of Summer featuring Jonathan Butler, Eric Darius and Maysa

Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Jazz Festival presented by Bank of the West
1107 Jamboree Road
Newport Beach, California,
(949) 729-6400

June 4
19th Annual Capital Jazz Fest

Merriweather Post Pavilion
10475 Little Patuxent Pkwy.
Columbia, Maryland
(301) 780-9300

Aug. 5
With Soul of Summer featuring Jonathan Butler, Eric Darius and Maysa

Hyatt Regency Newport Beach Summer Jazz Series
1107 Jamboree Road
Newport Beach, California
(949) 729-6400

Aug. 21
With Soul of Summer featuring Jonathan Butler, Eric Darius and Maysa

Thornton Winery’s 23 Annual Champagne Jazz Series
32575 Rancho California Road
Temecula, California,
(951) 699-3021

Sept. 26-Oct. 3, 2012
Dave Koz & Friends at Sea-Europe

aboard Royal Caribbean’s Brilliance of the Seas
Ports of call at Barcelona, Spain; Naples, Italy; Rome, Italy; Florence/Pisa, Italy; Nice, France; Toulon, France
(800) 225-5759