One of the greatest guitarists of all time, Jonathan Butler, performing at the 2019 Cape Town International Jazz Festival. Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)
Cape Town - Son of the soil Jonathan Butler is home - if only for a short while - after returning to the jazz festival he helped host during its inception.

The Athlone-born R&B and jazz legend performed at the Kippies stage at the Cape Town International Jazz Festival last night.

Butler, 57, told Weekend Argus the organisers came up with the concept of a “homecoming” for him to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the festival.

“I started out hosting the Cape Town Jazz Festival years ago and I brought a lot of friends, from Dave Koz, to Patti Austen, who used to come out here.

“But it’s been a while since I’ve actually performed at the festival and I can’t even remember how many years back the last performance was.”

The youngest of 13 children and now based in Los Angeles in the US, Butler lived in the UK for many years before moving to the US after gaining a loyal following in both countries.

The Grammy Award-nominated artist has had a legion of fans in South Africa from a young age, after he became a teen sensation following the release of his first album in 1973 and the success of his double gold records Please Stay and I Love How You Love Me, released in 1975.

“I was famous in South Africa since I was 12 years old and I’ve never seen that type of popularity ever again. These days it’s American Idol and The Voice.

“It’s so much different today. You have a kid in a hotel room making records and selling millions of records. The industry shape is different, you get more entrepreneurs, you get people working with tech in music, using a computer and a drum machine to make music.

“But the old way is still going to be around and there are all kinds of ways to make your record and get it on the radio, but I’m an old school guy who believes in record companies and A&R (artists and repertoire) where you listen to a record and if it’s not good, you say lets try it a different way,” he said.

Although Butler has lived and travelled extensively out the country, his music remains embedded in South African culture dating back to the beginnings of his career when he was singing and playing songs discussing racial segregation and poverty during apartheid.

He first began playing acoustic guitar at seven years old and his debut single was the first by a black musician to be played on white radio stations.

“I’m always a student of music, not just a musician, and I listen and always try to buy records, but my culture and musical experience is always rooted in South Africa through jazz, music, melodies and rhythm.

“In a way, I’ve been able to merge all the different (musical) cultures into my experiences since I began composing all those years ago,” he said.

Over the next 12 months, Butler will return to the US where he is scheduled to play at different jazz festivals before he sets sail in January from Miami on the Smooth Jazz Cruise where he will be one of a plethora of artists on the bill.

Weekend Argus