2008-09 was an exhilarating academic year for Melvin Butler as he and his family transitioned from Virginia to Chicago. Along with settling in Hyde Park, he has been working steadily to complete the first of two book projects exploring music and charismatic Christianity in the Caribbean and its diaspora. The bulk of his writing this year has dealt with the interplay of Jamaican and African American gospel music and Pentecostalism. However, he has also sustained his focus on Haiti by speaking at last fall’s meeting of the Society for Ethnomusicology and, more recently, for the Divinity School’s Wednesday Lunch Series. Rounding out this year’s conference activities, Butler attended the annual meeting of the International Association for the Study of Popular Music (US Branch). As Secretary, he is keeping abreast of its development, recording minutes of committee meetings, and taking pride in the participation of Chicago graduate students, in particular.
While a scholar by day, Butler continues to perform as a saxophonist by night. Since arriving to Chicago, he has performed with jazz quartets at the Velvet Lounge and Pops for Champagne. However, most of his music making has occurred outside of the city. In November 2008, he traveled to Boston and Philadelphia to play with the Brian Blade Fellowship; and in April 2009, he was featured with this group at New York City’s Lincoln Center, where their performance supplemented a screening of the new documentary film, Icons Among Us: Jazz in the Present Tense. He is excited about this summer’s performances on the West Coast (Yoshi’s in Oakland and Catalina’s Jazz Club in Los Angeles) and at the Newport and Montreal Jazz Festivals.