NATIONWIDE – Two-time Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter/guitarist, Jonathan Butler has been making jazz, pop and gospel music for years.
So it seems only fitting that the multi-talented, South African born musician would mesh these styles together in his debut Christmas CD, “Merry Christmas to You.”
Just when you thought you had heard every possible rendition of “This Christmas” and “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas,” Butler’s silky, smooth vocals transform these chestnuts into something rather extraordinary.
Sacramento Observer Correspondent Lana K. Wilson-Combs recently spoke with Butler by phone from his home in Los Angeles prior to his “Dave Koz & Friends Christmas Tour” with Oleta Adams and keyboardist Keiko Matsui. The tour kicked off Nov. 29 in Florida and will conclude Dec. 22 at the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco.
Butler discussed how much fun he had making “Merry Christmas to You,” why Christmas still means so much to him and what he’s planning for his fans in 2014.
Here’s what else Butler had to say.
LANA K. WILSON-COMBS: Was making a Christmas CD on your Bucket List?
JONATHAN BUTLER: It absolutely was. I wanted to make a Christmas album for years and just never got around to it. Plus, people kept asking me when I was going to do one and I kept saying soon. Now, even I’m surprised that “Merry Christmas to You” is completed. I’m really proud of it too especially since it’s my very first Christmas release.
Q. How did “Merry Christmas to You” all come about and how long did it take you to complete it?
A. You know what’s funny is my label, (Artistry Music) had no idea that I was going to record the CD. No one approached me to do it. This was something I just did on my own. Last year after attending the Smooth Jazz Cruise, I had some time and decided it would be a perfect opportunity to get started on it. I recorded “Merry Christmas to You” in one week. I’ve never completed an album in one week. It was amazing and so inspiring to do it. It was like once I got started, everything just flowed. When I finished it, I called my manager and said I had some music that I wanted him to hear and for him to let me know what he thought about it. When he heard the CD, he called me back and said that we had to make it happen because it was fantastic. And I was like, let’s do it.
Q. So many people have recorded Donny Hathaway’s “This Christmas,” and his version is extraordinary. But your remake of “This Christmas” is outstanding too. You give it such a jazzy and refreshing workout. Is “This Christmas” one of your favorite songs?
A. Thank you so much for saying that. But listen. Nobody can beat Donny Hathaway’s version of “This Christmas.” Nobody. He set the bar so high with that song. And I can’t make it through Christmas without hearing it at least 20 or 30 times. I LOVE that song. So my feeling going in and recording it was to simply try and do it justice for Donny (Hathaway) and produce and sing it in such a way that would have made him proud.
Q. There are so many other Christmas gems on your album, notably the beautiful instrumental version of “Sleigh Ride” and “I’ll be Home for Christmas.” Did you have special songs in mind when making the CD?
A. Yeah. I picked all these songs for a reason. And I chose the simple songs. These were songs that I really loved as a kid. All of these just felt right. And I wanted to expand on the CD too with songs like the title track and the cut “Happy Holidays.”
Q. Are you still a big Christmas kid at heart?
A. Most definitely. As clichéd as it sounds, Christmas really is the most wonderful time of the year. I grew up in South Africa, the youngest of 12 kids in my family. We didn’t have a lot. We wore hand-me-down clothes, but Christmas was always a very special and a magical time for us. My mother was a hairdresser and at Christmas she would get extra tips and would use the money to buy good food for the holiday and always surprise us on Christmas with toys. My best childhood memories were all of us sitting around the house eating delicious food and singing Christmas carols with our friends. Today, I do the same thing with my family. I’m looking forward to flying them from South Africa to Los Angeles and spending some real, fun quality time with them. That to me is the real meaning of Christmas. That’s why I love it so much.
Q. Are you excited about your Christmas tour?
A. Definitely. To share the stage with Dave Koz, Oleta Adams and keyboardist Keiko Matsui is so exciting and an honor. I have performed with them over the years and always love it. They are remarkable musicians.
Q. What else can fans expect from you in 2014?
A. I am actually working on my next album titled “Living My Dream.” It should be out around February. It will be a vocal, jazz and urban type of CD. It’s sort of a bittersweet compilation for me because it features collaborations with Marcus Miller and my dearest friend George Duke who died earlier this year. I hadn’t worked with George in a while and it was great that we had the opportunity to work together on this upcoming release.
Q. Have you had a chance to get back home to South Africa to visit family and to perform?
A. Actually I was recently in South Africa to visit my family. It’s always good to go home. However, I’m looking forward to seeing all my fans on tour. They really have supported me all these years and I love performing for them. I’ll tell you, they are in for something really special with the “Dave Koz & Friends Christmas Tour.” This is going to be a great Christmas show.
Editor’s Note: Be sure to pick up Jonathan Butler’s new CD, “Merry Christmas to You.” To find out more about Butler and his upcoming “Dave Koz & Friends Christmas Tour” log on to www.jonathanbutler.com/.
By: Lana K. Wilson-Combs
Sacramento Observer Correspondent