One of the biggest stars of R&B, contemporary and straight-ahead jazz, Gerald Albright has earned his reputation as a “musician’s musician.” Born in Los Angeles, he began piano lessons at an early age. Albright’s love of music picked up considerably when he was given a saxophone that had belonged to his piano teacher. By the time he enrolled at the University of Redlands, he was already a polished saxophonist. Albright decided to switch to bass guitar after he saw Louis Johnson in concert. A few months after graduating from college, he joined jazz pianist/R&B singer Patrice Rushen, who was in the process of forming her own band. Later, when the bass player left in the middle of a tour, Albright replaced him and finished the tour on bass guitar.
During the ’80s, Albright became a highly requested session musician, playing on albums by a wide variety of artists – including Anita Baker, Ray Parker, Lola Folana, Atlantic Starr, Olivia Newton-John, the Temptations and Maurice White. He also toured extensively with Les McCann, Jeff Lorber, Teena Marie, the Winans, Marlena Shaw, Quincy Jones, and Whitney Houston, among many others. Albright also went on to record numerous successful solo albums for Atlantic Records. Two albums hit the number one slot on Billboard’s Top Contemporary Jazz Chart, and were nominated for GRAMMY® Awards in 1989 and 1990. Phil Collins asked him to front a Big Band in 1998, and they toured together. The two of them also recorded one of Albright’s tunes, “Chips N’ Salsa” on Collins’ Big Band Project, entitled A Hot Night In Paris. Later that year, Albright released Pleasures of the Night with Will Downing on Verve Forecast, which hit No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Contemporary Jazz Albums chart as well.
Albright moved to GRP in 2002 for the Groovology album, and continued to maintain his busy schedule as a session man. His second GRP album, Kickin’ It Up, followed in 2004. Two years later, he signed with Peak Records, which released the 2008 GRAMMY® nominated New Beginnings, and the 2009 GRAMMY® nominated, Sax for Stax; both in the category of Best Pop Instrumental Album.
Over the years, Albright has appeared on numerous TV shows such as A Different World, Melrose Place and BET Jazz segments, as well as piloting a show in Las Vegas with Designing Women star Meshach Taylor. Albright was selected to be one of 10 saxophonists to play at President Clinton’s inauguration ceremony. Along the way, he has sold over a million albums in the U.S. alone and has appeared on nearly 200 albums by other artists.
Albright released Pushing The Envelope in June 2010 on Heads Up International, a division of Concord Music Group. Pushing The Envelope is a showcase for Albright’s remarkably fine balance of songcraft and musicianship, and features special guest appearances by Fred Wesley on trombone, Earl Klugh on acoustic guitar and George Duke on acoustic piano. In December 2010, Pushing The Envelope received a GRAMMY® nomination for Best Pop Instrumental Album.
On June 19, 2012, Albright teamed up with GRAMMY®-winning guitarist Norman Brown for 24/7, their first album together. Featuring ten killer soul-jazz tracks, 24/7 includes updated versions of “Tomorrow,” a Brothers Johnson classic from 1976, and “Champagne Life,” from singer Ne-Yo’s album Libra Scale. 24/7 was nominated for a GRAMMY® Award in the category of Best Pop Instrumental Album.
On August 5, 2014, Albright releases Slam Dunk and continues his reign supreme as the genre’s most compelling and consistent artist. Fans will hear his searing and soulful sax lines on this twelve-track recording. And, they’ll be in for a surprise, as Albright shows off his chops as a bassist, along with his ebullient tenor, baritone and soprano saxophone arrangements on his own compositions, and his super covers of classics by Phil Collins (“True Colors”) and James Brown (“It’s a Man’s, Man’s Man’s World”), with special guest vocalist Peabo Bryson. In December 2014, Slam Dunk received a GRAMMY® nomination in the Best Contemporary Instrumental Album category.
The youngest of 13 children, Butler grew up in Cape Town, South Africa, ruled by Apartheid and segregation. “I was born poor, but richly blessed with talent and the gift to make music,” he says. “I can’t dismiss where I’ve been or where I’ve come from. I’m a proud South African and I came from nothing.”
Butler began his singing career at age 7, releasing his first album in 1973 and winning the Best New Artist Grammy in South Africa the following year at age 12. He made history by being the first black artist played on white South African radio while earning three gold records (“Please Stay” went double gold and “I Love How You Love Me” went gold) in 1975 as he became a teenager.
More than a decade later, Butler moved to London, England after signing with Jive Records and released his first album internationally. The self-titled set went gold in 1987 in the United Kingdom and in the USA. He received Grammy nominations for Best R&B Song for his R&B-pop vocal hit “Lies” and for Best Jazz Song for the instrumental “Going Home.” His genre-busting material earned songwriter’s awards and received abundant airplay in multiple radio formats: pop, urban, contemporary jazz, adult contemporary and gospel. Butler’s 2004 album, Surrender, went gold in South Africa where he remains a superstar. “I don’t think I’ve ever really celebrated these moments in my life. I’ve spent my whole life taking care of people ever since I was seven. And I’m grateful, but this is the season of me.”
Butler is still taking care of people back home. Last fall, he launched the Jonathan Butler Foundation in his native country to fund music education programs that give children the purpose to overcome a life of drugs and poverty just as he did. The music and arts programs serving South African children ages 4-17 operate with the mission statement, “Purpose kills addiction.”
Another aspect of Butler’s “season of me” is his blossoming love affair with golf. He’s only been playing slightly more than a year, but he’s smitten and plays almost daily, often with other musicians. “I’m not sure how golf took over, but it attached itself to me. I can go out on the golf course and have ‘guy time.’ I’m completely taken over by this little white ball. I’m so at peace and calm when I’m out there and so relaxed after playing, which I never thought would be the case since I’ve never been a sports guy. I wasn’t trying to find another passion, but it actually found me. Golf has become my saving grace and has given me a look inside me. I think it’s the freedom. It’s amazing how much it’s given me.”
In concert, Butler remains a captivating and powerful performer, pouring his heart into selections from his immense catalogue. In addition to being a popular draw at headline dates, festival shows and music cruises, Butler thrives on interacting with his fans. For the past 4 years, he has led a group of 35 guests each fall on the Jonathan Butler Safari, during which he shares his South Africa by visiting important landmarks in his life, as well as historic locales such as the prison on Robben Island where Nelson Mandela was jailed.
“I’ve come to a really good place in my life even if finding my way there was tough. I’m living my dream and it’s amazing what God is doing—seeing all these things through tears and pain. Seeing God place me in these extraordinary places and opportunities…if I couldn’t see it, I’d really be blind and faithless. I need to hold onto the love surrounding me. I had never really dropped my shoulders to embrace it. It took shedding my skin, realigning and readjusting myself as a person, honestly looking at how I can become a better person, which affects my family. We stood together through difficult periods and it taught me not to make too many allowances in life of which I had been making too many. It was a trying time and a difficult year emotionally and personally, but I did a lot of reflecting over the past two years and I’m in a good place,” summarizes Butler.
During an extraordinary musical life that has unfolded in the public eye, Butler has seen and endured a lot. He’s watched his country turn itself inside out for the better—much like he has done with his own life. Living and witnessing the brutalities and injustice of oppression as a celebrated child star while at the same time not permitted to enjoy basic human rights, indulgence naturally became his coping device. If not for a spiritual intervention, his light would have been extinguished long ago on the mercilessly dark path of abuse and self-destruction. His music has purpose, providing comfort and genuine inspiration. When he sings, he testifies to the glory and healing power of love. When he plays guitar, his fast fingers innately find notes of passion and divinity. Jonathan Butler’s recording career has carried him far, far beyond his wildest dreams. He’s living his dream and that is a blessing for us all.