"Make The Food You Want To Eat"
Jonathan Butler Does It His Way and Finds The Reason For The Season-ing

By Lee Valentine Smith

A ten-year veteran of the Dave Koz and Friends holiday tours, this year Jonathan Butler will share the stage with guests Mindi Abair, Keiko Matsui and Shelea. The South African born musician has spans the decades and the globe with years of international acclaim as he's moved from his birthplace to London and on to the USA.
Besides featuring in the 2018 edition of the Koz holiday tour, Butler also has an exceptional new album. Close To You finds the singer and guitarist breathing amazing new life into some of Burt Bacharach's most-interpreted songs.

INsite spoke with Butler by phone as he planned out his set for the Koz holiday tour.

You've worked with Dave for years. You guys must have a musical shorthand by now.

Yeah we've been sort of brothers in crime for, gosh it's been ten years of the Christmas tours now. We do work together well. He's always able to come up with a great array of artists. This year is no exception, with Keiko, Mindi and Shelea, who is one of the most incredible singers out there. I worked with her on Kirk Whalun's tour last year. I said to Koz,'You've gotta get this lady on the show.' We're planning it right now; I can tell it's gonna be exciting.

How'd you first meet Koz?

I hired him to do a session on one of my records for Polygram almost twenty years ago. Then we started working together on his summer tours, then Christmas shows came up and then the jazz cruises. We've stayed in touch for a long time and we always stay busy. We're just working musicians. That's what it is.

On The 25th of December, Dave's holiday album from a few years ago, you did "All You Need Is Love." It's not a standard Christmas song by any means, but it worked well within the context.

Yes, we feel that all the songs should tie into a message and that one certainly does.

As a man of faith, is it inspiring to play Christmas songs?

You don't want to bash people over the head, but the truth is, we are celebrating the life of Christ. For some of us who have a life transformed by Christ, such as myself, I'm not ashamed about it. Over the years, people have accepted my openness and honesty. It just makes it all the more meaningful when we're all out there celebrating. But it's different for every one of us on the tour. Even the audience. Someone may be celebrating Kwanzaa, and on and on. But we're all like wells and we each individually bring forth different things from our well. It makes for a great show.

Holiday music, done right, can touch the heart of even the hardest-hearted agnostic.

Right, as long as it comes from a very pure place. That's all that matters. It's more important to me than putting scriptures on Facebook or whatever. It's a Christmas show that's open to everybody, that's what's really cool about it.

You are a good witness because you don't force your beliefs, it's just a part of your art.

Listen, some people are called to serve 'in the house.' But I think I'm called to serve outside the house, where the real sheep are. For lack of a better term, you know?

Otherwise you're preaching to the choir, literally.

And what's the point of that, really? My challenge is to always stay fresh, alert, sensitive and be discerning in whatever environment I'm in, be it a concert, a Christmas show, a jazz festival or at Blues Alley. You have to be sensitive to what the needs may be that night. That's how it is with me and how it's been since I was 19. It's been a long time now.

When you were 19, you were already a major recording artist.

Yes, I've been recording since I was 13.

And that first single was a Burt Bacharach song.

It was! It was called "Please Stay." I enjoy writing my own songs, but it's amazing how I've really come full circle with that sort of material.

At first glance, it might seem that the track-list for Close To You are songs that have been done to death since the '60s, but in your hands they seem brand new. That's a major accomplishment with standards.

Well you see, I'm not playing them as an American artist. I'm bringing my South African background into an American composer's music. We've all heard these songs many, many times. My approach was to stay close to my own roots while staying true to the songs. But that's the way I approach any type of song, whether it's Bacharach, a Christmas tune or one of my own songs. I have to play it the way I truly feel it. It's about standing out, it's about glowing in the dark. You really have to make the food that you want to eat!

Dave Koz and Friends celebrate the season on Friday, November 30 at Cobb Energy Center. Showtime is 8 p.m. For more information, please visit cobbenergycentre.com.

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