Jonathan Butler paying tribute to classic songwriter

Published on April 6th, 2021

By Jim Dail

At the height of Apartheid in South Africa, young Jonathan Butler, 12 at the time, recorded “Please Stay,” a classic Burt Bacharach song. That song would be the springboard to a whole new life as the song earned him the distinction of being the first black artist on white radio in his homeland and earned him a Sarie award, South Africa’s version of the Grammy. From there it was the start of a brilliant career.

Now, Butler has put together an album of Bacharach songs, “Close to You,” and heads to Thornton Winery to open the 30th annual Champagne Jazz Concert Series with Kenny Latimore and Michael Lington.

“All I can tell you is I hope I am making Burt proud because I feel I’ve come full circle,” he said. “I had ideas for a record but my kids, fiancé and I ended up playing songs, and I think the song we sang was ‘Close to You’ and that woke up this passion to pursue his music and so I decided to make the full record.”

Bacharach is one of the most successful songwriters in America with 73 U.S. Top 40 hits such as “Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head,” “Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)” and “Heartlight,” to name a few.

“The album is me doing Bacharach from a South African inspective,” he said. “So, I tried to pick songs I thought were familiar and I think they all are.”

Among the titles are “Do You Know the Way to San Jose,” “What the World Needs Now,” “I Say a Little Prayer,” “Close to You” and “This Guy’s in Love with you.”

“My manager said this is a really good move to do this record and I agree,” he said. “I tell you, we stretched it so that it had that South African feel and sound.”

Of course, when covers are involved there is the balance between staying somewhat true to the song and making it representative of an artist’s individual style.

“I made it my own,” he said. “There are so many versions of these songs, but it is my sound and I feel very comfortable with it. I can’t wait to get out there with it.”

That will be in June for the new record.

“It is such a new page in the history of my career that it’s an incredible landmark,” he said. “It’s a hell of a statement with what I think is beautiful music and melody, and people from my age and older certainly know this music.”

He notes that the music came from a good place, derived naturally and was an uplifting experience.

“It was very organic, and I allowed for the sounds to just flow naturally,” he said. “You want to keep the integrity and don’t want to taint it by making it too overly produced. If you do that, you end up losing the sport of it.  I was very mindful of that, and it remains pure, yet you will dance and sing along.”

For the most part, all the music is Butler.

“This had to be all me, so I played most of the instruments,” he said. “I had a horn arranger and percussionist. I had daughters do background and had a choir on the record.”

There was another reason for him doing all the music as well.

“The people I wanted to work with were too far away,” he laughed.

Listen to any Butler record and there will be a mix of vocals and instrumentals, and that includes seeing him on stage.

“There are two instrumentals and the rest are vocals,” he said.

There is also an original.

“It’s a song called ‘Cape Town,’ which is a tribute to my country,” he said. “Ultimately just listen to the treatment of the songs and what it expresses. They are fresh and new and that’s what is so nice about it.”


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