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Jackson, Joe

Joe Jackson

Singer, songwriter, pianist, composer

Self-styled eclectic artist Joe Jackson has been a prominent name in modern rock since his seminal new wave albums Look Sharp! and I'm The Man were released in 1979. Since then, the chameleonlike Jackson has experimented with various styles of music and production, including instrumental albums and film scores. After roaming the terrain of popular music for two decades, Jackson released Heaven & Hell (1997), which placed him on the Sony Classical label and returned the artist to his roots at London's Royal Academy of Music, where he had studied as a teenager. There has always been a strong rock influence in his work, but Jackson has continued to mix a stew of assorted genres into each album.

While going to primary school in Portsmouth, England, Jackson took up violin lessons at the age of eleven as a way to avoid taking school sports. He soon developed an interest in creating his own compositions, and talked his parents into buying him a piano. Joe gained a love for Beethoven along with rock and jazz, and from the beginning his musical appetite was notable for its diversity. When he was 16, Jackson began taking formal lessons and started to perform in public. Within two years, he entered the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London on a piano scholarship. During his sojourn at the Academy, he focused on composition, piano, percussion, and orchestration by day, and played in a string of fleeting Top 40 cover bands in the evenings.

One of these bands, Arms & Legs, was signed in 1976 by the MAM U.K. label, and quickly released three singles. After spending only one year together, members of the group went their separate ways, and Joe headed home to Portsmouth to perform at the Playboy Club, where he began to assemble a collection of demo tapes. After inviting back the previous bass-guitarist from Arms & Legs, Graham Maby, and collecting Gary Sanford for guitar and Dave Houghton for drums, Jackson composed enough material to confidently craft his solo debut. Jackson was signed to A&M records and began recording in August of 1978. His debut album, Look Sharp! (1979), was packed with catchy singles, and captured the energy of punk and new wave, also showing the clear signs of an ironic, subtle songwriter.

Fresh from the studio, the Joe Jackson Band toured the London area in the fall of 1978, supporting a local band named the Pleasers. Meanwhile, Jackson's band recorded "Is She Really Going Out With Him?," releasing it in 1978. While the song would later become a new wave staple and one of Jackson's signature tunes, it failed to make the U.K. charts its first time around.

Look Sharp! resulted in invitations for the band to create BBC sessions for the John Peel and Kid Jensen radio shows, both crucial showcases for new talent in the United Kingdom. From April until June of 1979, the Joe Jackson Band continuously toured the United States and Europe, pushing "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" to Billboard's Top 40, where it reached number 21. The single was subsequently re-released in the United Kingdom due to public demand, and this time peaked at number 13. Jackson gained appreciation from critics, who gave kudos to the performer for the freshness of his songwriting and for the energy of his live performances.

Jackson and his outfit went on to make two more albums in as many years. The first, I'm The Man, hit number five hit in the United Kingdom with "It's Different For Girls," and the album snared Jackson the prestigious Edison Award for music, from Holland. A New Musical Express writer claimed that the album "refines, expands, extends, and finally surpasses its creators' opening gambit." Beat Crazy was the next, as well as the last, album to feature the original Joe Jackson Band lineup for the next 25 years. Showcasing a blend of influences, including ska and reggae, Beat Crazy failed to chart heavily with its singles, and by 1980 the group had split up.

For the Record …

Born David Ian Jackson on August 11, 1954, at Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England. Education: Attended London's Royal Academy of Music, 1972-75.

Played in pub cover bands Edward Bear and The Misty Set, 1972-75; joined band Arms & Legs; signed recording deal with MAM UK for three singles before break-up in 1976; Joe Jackson Band formed, 1978; released debut album, Look Sharp, 1979; with Joe Jackson Band, released I'm the Man, 1979, and Beat Crazy, 1980; recorded Jumpin' Jive, 1981; Night and Day released in 1982; played piano for Suzanne Vega's single "Left of Center" from movie Pretty in Pink, 1986; Jackson band signed onto Virgin America for two albums, Blaze of Glory, 1989, and Laughter and Lust, 1991; switched to Sony Classical for Heaven & Hell, 1997; published memoir A Cure for Gravity, 1999; recorded New York City-inspired Night and Day II, 2000; reunited with bandmates from Joe Jackson Band to record Volume 4 and embarked on world tour, 2003; released Afterlife, a live album of the Volume 4 tour, 2004; recorded piano-based CD Rain, 2008.

Awards: Grammy Award, Best Pop Instrumental Album, for Symphony No. 1, 2000; Royal Academy of Music, Fellowship Award.

Addresses: Record company—Rykodisc, phone: 212-287-6116. Web site—Joe Jackson Official Web site: http://www.joejackson.com.

Pop Innovator Stretched the Boundaries

Never an artist to become crestfallen after commercial letdowns, Jackson forged ahead. In between I'm The Man and Beat Crazy, Jackson produced three tracks for reggae artist Lincoln Thompson, as well as an album for the reggae group The Rasses titled Natural Wild. These interactions bolstered Jackson's growing interest in music other than contemporary pop. In addition, while he was recuperating from a long illness in 1981, Jackson began listening to 1940s jump and swing music. He decided that it would be fun to make a cover album of that era's music, and took a holiday from his own writing to record the album Jumpin' Jive with longtime associate Graham Maby and a group of professional jazz musicians. As Hi-Fi News & Record Reviews commented, Jackson "obviously loves and understands the music with which he is dealing and is not merely content to employ it as this year's gimmick." The project received positive reviews, but fell flat commercially.

Jackson returned to his own writing for the next album, 1982's Night and Day, which was conceived and recorded in New York City. The melancholic urban romance of that city influenced the flavor of Night and Day, which was an instant success in the United States. While hinting at the somber coolness of intimate club jazz, the album stayed for the most part within the parameters of the pop music format, perhaps one reason for its strong commercial reception. In the words of a critic writing for the Italian magazine Mucchio Selvaggio, Jackson "shows us his eclecticism, intelligence, and respect for the New York musical history," and called him a "real sound poet." The Joe Jackson band, with a new roster of members, supported the album with an eleven-month tour, and the re-release of "Steppin' Out" in the United Kingdom and the popularity of the moody ballad "Breaking Us in Two" raised Night and Day to number three on the charts.

During the Night and Day tour, Jackson accepted an invitation to score the film Mike's Murder, a fairly forgettable thriller starring Debra Winger. While some of the soundtrack's material got a decent amount of radio play, the film was cut so harshly that most of Jackson's score did not make the final product. Nevertheless, the project became the first in a number of successful film collaborations for Jackson.

Body and Soul, released in 1984, featured the number 15 single "You Can't Get What You Want." Widespread critical acclaim for the album bolstered Jackson's reputation as a composer breaking ground between pop and "serious" music. After the album's promotional tour, Jackson was again invited to compose a film score, this time for a Japanese IMAX film called Shijin No Ie (House of the Poet). Comprised of a 20-minute piece with a full orchestra, the score was reworked and released later on the album Will Power as "Symphony in One Movement."

In January of 1996, the album Big World was recorded live at the Roundabout Theatre in New York City. The expansiveness of the record allowed Jackson to include the same songs twice, but in radically reorchestrated versions that showed his imagination in arranging as well as songwriting. Stretching the boundaries of pop to the extreme, Big World may have been a preparation for Jackson's next album, which was a decisive deviation from the pop world.

Charted a New Course

Jackson's studio band was mostly kept intact, but was buttressed by a full piece orchestra for the album Will Power, which contained all instrumental material, presenting a surprise for those expecting standard pop radio fare. Taking yet another step in this direction, Jackson swung back to another soundtrack project when film maverick Francis Ford Coppola gave him the opportunity to use some well-known British jazz performers in creating a score for the film Tucker: The Man and His Dream, which was released by A&M in 1988.

Following the 1988 album Blaze of Glory, which essentially went unpromoted, Jackson took a break to recoup. While lying low, Jackson spent time at small clubs trying out material for what would become his next album, Laughter & Lust, released on the Virgin record label. Between recording and touring, Jackson wrote the score for the 1991 movie Queen's Logic.

The album Night Music (1994) received positive critical reviews, but little air play. The press volleyed the album back and forth, saying it was too old for their audiences, or chided Jackson for his refusal to create another pop single. Along with these troubles, some commentators thought he was taking himself too seriously. An article in Stereo Review stated that Jackson had "abandoned regulation pop music instrumentation, as if conventional pop structures would unfairly rein in a prodigious, sweeping talent such as his."

Heaven & Hell (1997) brought Joe Jackson home to his compositional roots. It was released on the Sony Classical label, severing it from the milieu of commercial popular music. A concept album whose music worked off the theme of the seven deadly sins, Heaven & Hell featured introspective pop singer Suzanne Vega, classical soprano Dawn Upshaw, and Crash Test Dummies' lead singer Brad Roberts, and became a testament to Jackson's vibrant eclecticism. Despite the album's challenging nature and the length of the songs, which averaged over six minutes each, the album climbed to the number three spot on Billboard's Top Classical Crossover chart.

Musical Wanderings Lead Full Circle

In October of 1999 Jackson released both a book and CD. Jackson's memoir, A Cure for Gravity: A Musical Pilgrimage, which chronicles his early musical career and ends with the recording of his debut album Look Sharp!, revealed his passion for divergent forms of music. Jackson noted on his own Web site that music spared him from a life as "one of those sad [people] you see milling around outside the pub at closing time, looking for a fight."

His 1999 CD release of Symphony No. 1 built upon his continuing interest in musical experimentation. The album, though not entirely a hit with critics, garnered Jackson his first Grammy Award, for Best Pop Instrumental Album, in 2000. The album faced the same sort of criticism that had hampered the reception of his earlier instrumental compositions. Frank Ahrens of the Washington Post summed up Jackson's conundrum: "A pop star's orchestral music doesn't have much credibility with classical fans, and pop fans wondered what the heck he was doing." Jackson characteristically dismissed such negative appraisals, commenting in the San Francisco Chronicle, "I'm used to being judged harshly for things I've done.… I don't know why people can't just appreciate things for what they are rather than weigh it against their own bloody agenda."

In late 2000 Jackson released Night and Day II, a sequel to his 1982 homage to New York City, making a return to the pop genre and incorporating Afro-Latin percussion, strings, and keyboard. It included performances by numerous well-known performers, including British singer and actress Marianne Faithfull.

Jackson surprised himself and his fans in 2002 when he announced that the Joe Jackson Band, with its original lineup of Jackson, Maby on bass, Sanford on guitar, and Houghton on drums, would reunite for a new studio album and tour. The reunion, prompted by the 25th anniversary of the band's first recording, Look Sharp!, produced the 2003 studio CD Volume 4 and the live album Afterlife in 2004. The CD and world tour received positive reviews for their inclusion of both older tunes and new songs. Rick Reger of the Chicago Tribune praised the exuberance of the band in its live performance, concluding that the "unabashed punk fury with which Jackson and crew delivered ‘Got the Time’ [proved] there's an edgy young lout still kicking beneath Jackson's ‘great composer’ veneer."

After the release of Afterlife, Jackson toured solo, having claimed the reunion was a one-time offering. In 2008, however, he teamed up with bass player Maby and drummer Houghton to record Rain. The album was recorded in what had once been an East German radio station in Berlin, where Jackson had moved in 2007. The album earned kudos as representative of Jackson's enduring achievements as an accomplished shape-shifter in the pop realm, whose solid musicianship has continued to evolve over more than three decades. Will Layman noted in PopMatters that "Rain is less a New Start for a great pop tunesmith than it is a continuation and honing of that artist's craft." Jackson has continued to listen to what he calls the "divine sanity" of music, and to share his passion with a grateful audience.

Selected discography

Look Sharp!, A&M, 1979.

I'm The Man, A&M, 1979.

Beat Crazy, A&M, 1980.

Jumpin' Jive, A&M, 1981.

Night And Day, A&M, 1982.

Mike's Murder (film score), A&M, 1983.

Body And Soul, A&M, 1984.

Big World, A&M, 1986.

Will Power (Instrumental), A&M, 1987.

Tucker (film score), A&M, 1988.

Blaze of Glory, A&M, 1989.

Laughter & Lust, Virgin America, 1991.

Night Music, Virgin America, 1994.

Heaven & Hell, Sony Classical, 1997.

Symphony No. 1, Sony Classical, 1999.

Summer in the City: Live in New York, Sony, 2000.

Night and Day II, Sony Classical, 2000.

Volume 4, Rykodisc, 2003.

Afterlife, Rykodisc, 2004.

Rain, Rykodisc, 2008.

Sources

Books

Jackson, Joe, A Cure for Gravity: A Musical Pilgrimage, Public Affairs/Perseus, 1999.

Periodicals

Billboard, August 2, 1997.

Chicago Tribune, March 28, 2003; April 1, 2003.

Ciao 2001, April 1984.

Harburger Nachrichten, 1994.

Hi-Fi News & Record Reviews, September 1981.

Interview, May 1994.

Mucchio Selvaggio, September 1982.

Musician, November 1997.

New Musical Express, October 6, 1979.

New York Times, December 23, 2000.

Rolling Stone, December 13, 1979; October 14, 1982; June 24, 2002; April 17, 2003.

San Francisco Chronicle, December 8, 1999.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 20, 2000.

Stereo Review, 1994.

Vancouver Sun, April 27, 1995.

Variety, August 29, 1997.

Washington Post, September 3, 1997.

Online

"Joe Jackson," All Music Guide,http://www.allmusic.com (May 30, 2008).

"Joe Jackson," NPR,http://www.npr.org (May 30, 2008).

Joe Jackson Official Web site, http://www.joejackson.com (May 30, 2008).

"Joe Jackson," PopMatters,http://www.popmatters.com (May 30, 2008).

—Shaun Frentner and Elizabeth Henry

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Jackson, Joe

Joe Jackson

Musician

For the Record

Looked Sharp

A Comeback to the Beginning

Selected discography

Sources

Self-styled, eclectic artist Joe Jackson has been a prominent name in modern rock since his seminal new wave albums Look Sharp! and Im The Man were released in 1979. Since then, the chameleon-like Jackson has experimented with styles of music and production, which has included instrumental albums and eight soundtracks. After roaming the terrain of pop music for two decades, Jackson released Heaven and Hell, which placed him on the Sony Classical label and returned the artist to his roots at the Royal Academy of Music, where he studied as a teenager. Jackson had finally decided that the pop world had never really acknowledged the scope of his records and is a place whose boundaries are often too restrictive and imposing. Undeniably, there has always been a strong rock influence in his work, but Jackson has progressively continued to mix a stew of assorted genres into each album. All I can say is, it just doesnt feel natural or honest to me to work within the limits of one clearly defined genre, Jackson claimed in a press release for the album Night Music.

While going to primary school in Portsmouth, England, Jackson took up violin lessons at the age of 11 as a way to avoid taking school sports. He soon developed an interest in creating his own compositions, and talked his parents into buying him a piano to create his own music. Joe gained a love for Beethoven along with rock and jazzfrom the beginning his musical appetite was marked in its diversity. When he was 16, Jackson began taking formal lessons and began to play in public. Within two years, he entered the prestigious Royal Academy of Music in London on a piano scholarship. During his sojourn at the Academy, he focused on composition, piano, percussion, and orchestration by day, and played in a string of fleeting Top 40 cover bands in the evenings.

One of these bands, Arms & Legs, was signed in 1976 by the MAM U.K. label and quickly released three singles which Jackson now calls disastrous. After spending only one year together, Arms & Legs went their separate ways, and Joe headed home to Portsmouth to perform at the Playboy Club, where he began to assemble a collection of demo tapes. After inviting back the previous bass-guitarist from Arms & Legs, Graham Maby, and collecting Gary Sanford for guitar and Dave Houghton for drums, Jackson had composed enough material to confidently craft his solo debut. Jackson was signed to A&M records and began recording in August of 1978 to produce what would be the album he would be forever known for, Look Sharp! Packed with catchy singles, the album captured the energy of punk and new wave, and showed clear signs of an ironic, subtle songwriter.

For the Record

Born Joe Jackson August 11, 1954 at Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England; studied at Royal Academy of Music, London from September 197174.

Played in pub band Edward Bear; signed recording deal with MAM UK for three singles before break-up in 1976; Joe Jackson band formed, 1978; released debut album Look Sharp, containing his first hit single Is She Really Going Out With Him?, 1979; Night and Day released in 1982 with single Steppin Out charting; played in live TV concert Rockpalast in West Germany, 1983; You Cant Get What You Want from Body and Soul, 1984; played piano for Suzanne Vegas single Left of Center from the movie Pretty In Pink, 1986; Jackson band signed onto Virgin America for two albums, 1991; switched to Sony Classical for Heaven & Hell, 1997.

Awards: band received the prestigious Edison Award in Holland for the second album Im The Man, 1979

Addresses: Internet majordomo@lists.primenet.com

Fresh from the studio, the Joe Jackson Band toured the London area in the fall of 1978, supporting a local band named the Pleasers. Meanwhile, Jacksons band recorded the single Is She Really Going Out With Him? and released it on Halloween 1978. The single was aired for the Tony Blackburn show on November 3, and while it would later become a new wave staple and one of Jacksons signature tunes, it failed to make the U.K. charts its first time around.

Looked Sharp

In January of 1979, the album Look Sharp! was finally released, resulting in invitations for the band to create more BBC sessions for the John Peel and Kid Jensen radio shows, both crucial showcases for new talent in the U.K. From April until June, the Joe Jackson Band continuously toured the United States and Europe. After some delay, the exposure from these many gigs and radio airings pushed Is She Really Going Out With Him to Billboard s Top 40, reaching number 21. The single was subsequently re-released in the U.K. due to public demand and this time peaked at the Number 13. All the while, Jackson had gained appreciation from critics, who gave kudos to the performer for the freshness of his songwriting, as well as for the energy of his live performances.

Working industriously, Jackson and his outfit went on to make two more albums in as many years. The first, Im The Man, scored a Number five hit in the U.K. with Its Different For Girls and the album itself snared Jackson the prestigious Edison Award for music, awarded from Holland. As a New Musical Express writer saw it, an excellent debut album has been chased back home by a sequel which refines, expands, extends, and finally surpasses its creators opening gambit. Beat Crazy was the follow-up, as well as the last album to feature the original Joe Jackson Band line up. Eschewing the new wave style of Jacksons earliest efforts in favor of a blend of influences including ska and reggae, Beat Crazy failed to chart heavily with its singles, and by 1980 the group had split up.

Never an artist to become crestfallen after commercial letdowns, Jackson forged ahead in his intake of a world of musical styles. In between Im The Man and Beat Crazy, Jackson had produced three tracks for reggae artist Lincoln Thompson, as well as an album for the reggae group The Rasses, entitled Natural Wild, and these interactions only bolstered Jacksons growing interest in music other than contemporary pop. In addition, while he was recuperating from an long illness in 1981, Jackson began listening to 1940s jump and swing music at his home. He decided that it would be fun to make a cover album ofthat eras music and took a holiday from his own writing and recorded the album Jumpin Jive with longtime associate Graham Maby and a group of professional jazz musicians. As Hi-Fi News & Record Reviews commented, Jackson obviously loves and understands the music with which he is dealing and is not merely content to employ it as this years gimmick. And yet as with much of Jacksons output, it received well-favored reviews, but fell flat commercially.

Jackson returned to his own writing for the next album, 1982s Night and Day, which was conceived and recorded in New York City. Perhaps the melancholic urban romance of that city was a key influence of the flavor of Night and Day, which was an instant success in the U.S. While hinting at the somber coolness of intimate club jazz, the album stayed for the most part within the parameters of the pop music format, perhaps one reason for its strong commercial reception. In the words of a critic writing for Italian magazine Mucchio Selvaggio, thanks to this album Joe Jackson can be called a great musician; he shows us his eclecticism, intelligence, and respect for the New York musical history. A real sound poet. Its first single, Steppin Out, rode up the charts to Number six, and Jackson was asked to play on the NBC television show Saturday Night Live in October of that year. The Joe Jackson band, with a new roster of members, supported the album with an 11 month tour, and the re-release of Steppin Out in the U.K. and the popularity of the moody ballad Breaking Us In Two raised Night and Day to number three on the charts.

During the Night and Day tour, Jackson accepted the invitation to score the film Mikes Murder, a fairly forgettable thriller starring Debra Winger. Some of the songs were leftovers from the Night and Day sessions along with a number of original instrumental tracks. While some of the soundtracks material got a decent amount of radio play, the film was cut so harshly that most of Jacksons score did not make the final product. Nevertheless, the albums material was strong and became the first in a number of successful film collaborations for Jackson.

The next album from Jackson was released in March of 1984, called Body and Soul, and featured the Number 15 single You Cant Get What You Want. The single as well as the album demonstrated mastery in the kind of cosmopolitan pop he had been known to invent. As a critic for Ciao 2001 magazine assessed, Body and Soul is a masterpiece of a thirty year old boy who doesnt know how to be a rock star and doesnt want to; an out of time musician able to charm with a few piano notes. The albums almost unanimous critical acclaim bolstered his reputation as a composer breaking ground between pop and serious music. Consequently, after the albums promotional tour, Jackson was again invited to compose a film score, this time for a Japanese IMAX film called Shijin No le or House of the Poet. Comprised of a twenty minute piece with a full orchestra, the score was reworked and released later on the album Will Power as Symphony in One Movement.

In January of 1996, the album Big World was recorded live at the Roundabout Theatre in New York City, which generated a video of the performances alongside the three-sided LP. The expansiveness of the record allowed for Jackson to include the same songs twice, but in radically re-orchestrated versions that showed Jacksons imagination in arrangements as well as songwriting. Stretching the limits of pop to its limits, Big World was perhaps a preparation for Jacksons next album to come out, which was a decisive deviation from the pop world.

Jacksons studio band was mostly kept intact, but was buttressed by a full piece orchestra. The album, called Will power, contained all instrumental material and was perhaps a slap in the face for those expecting standard popular radio fare. Taking yet another step in this direction, Jackson swung back to another soundtrack project when film maverick Francis Ford Coppola gave him the opportunity to use some well-known British jazz performers in creating a score for the film Tucker: The Man and His Dream, which was released by A&M.

Following the 1988 album Blaze of Glory, which essentially went unpromoted, Jackson took a break to recoup, even though this album still is one of the artists own favorites, and ranks right up there with Night and Day, as critic Jim Bessman agreed. While laying low, Jackson spent his time at small clubs trying out material for what took shape in his next album Laughter & Lust, which was released on the Virgin records label. Between recording and touring, Jackson again wrote the score for the movie Queens Logic, after which he took a well-deserved break.

A Comeback to the Beginning

The album Night Music was welcomed in 1994 to rave reviews by the critics, but the air time it received was as weak as Blaze of Glory. A review from Harburger Nachrichten in Germany explained the predicament: I really like it, but I cant review it unless it starts getting a lot of airplay or gets into the charts. The press volleyed the album back and forth saying it was too old for their audiences, or chided Jackson for his refusal to create another pop single. His mature blends of music just didnt fit in anywhere. Even if it was worth listening to, there seemed no way to promote it properly. Along with these troubles, some commentators thought he was taking himself too seriously. An article in the Stereo Review stated that Jackson had abandoned regulation pop music instrumentationas if conventional pop structures would unfairly rein in a prodigious, sweeping talent such as his the only thing missing was a sign on the stage reading Quiet! Artist at Work!

Jackson has taken it all in stride, as he sees no viable alternative. Im totally aware that what I do doesnt fit very neatly, and that makes life difficult at times, he told journalist Gary Graff in his own defense. He fears that the critics still see him as the angry young man from his early rock and roll years and Look Sharp! Now that he has matured out of single-making pop structures he explains that to me, it feels a bit like Im the ugly sister of Cinderella, and they keep trying to force the glass slipper onto my foot; but I dont WANT it. I mean, Im PROUD to be ugly!

Heaven & Hell brought Joe Jackson home to where his compositional roots lie. It was released in September of 1997 on the Sony Classical Label, denoting the final severance from the milieu of commercial popular music. A concept album whose music embodies the seven deadly sins. Heaven and Hell featured introspective pop singer Suzanne Vega, classical soprano Dawn Upshaw, and Crash Test Dummies lead singer Brad Roberts, and may stand as the ultimate testament to Jacksons vibrant eclecticism.

Selected discography

Look Sharp! A&M, 1979.

Im The Man, A&M, 1979.

Beat Crazy, A&M, 1980.

Night And Day, A&M, 1982.

Body And Soul, A&M, 1984.

Big World, A&M, 1986.

Will Power, (Instrumental), A&M, 1986.

Jumpin Jive, A&M, 1987.

Laughter & Lust, Virgin America, 1991.

Night Music, Virgin America, 1994.

Heaven & Hell, Sony Classical, 1997.

Sources

Periodicals

Billboard, August 2, 1997.

Ciao 2001, April 1984.

Harburger Nachrichten, 1994.

Hi-Fi News & Record Reviews, September, 1981.

Interview, May 1994.

Mucchio Selvaggio, September 1982.

Musician, November 1997.

New Musical Express, October 6, 1979.

Rolling Stone, December 13, 1979; October 14, 1982.

Stereo Review, 1994.

Vancouver Sun, April 27, 1995.

Variety, August 29, 1997.

Online

http://www.cryst.bbk.ac.uk/~ubcg5ab/JJ/bio.html

http://www.joejackson.com

Shaun Frentner

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Jackson, Joe

Joe Jackson

Singer, songwriter, pianist

For the Record

Selected discography

Sources

In the modern music business, performers tend to hunt for a successful formula and then stick with it for as long as it continues to sell records. Joe Jackson has defied that convention, challenging himself and his listeners by making nearly every one of his albums in a different musical style. Theres this mentality in the music industry, Play it safe, stick to the format, give the people what they want, Jackson told David Wild in Rolling Stone. I hate that expression, it makes me angry. The people dont know what they wantthey just want something good. Jackson has proven his point by maintaining his popularity while experimenting with jazz idioms, pop conventions, Latin rhythms, Broadway-style tunes and even orchestral music.

At the age of twelve, Jackson was already writing instrumental music and developing his skills as a pianist. His great loves were Stravinsky and Beethoven, and he even attended the Royal College of Music in London for three years. Strangely enough, it was in this classical environment that he became convinced that the pop song was the most important musical form of his era. Accordingly, he tore up all his previous compositions, dropped out of the Academy, and began working on a repertoire of pop songs. He supported himself with various commercial gigs, including a stint as the house pianist at the Playboy Club in Portsmouth, England.

Eventually, he made his way to London, where he formed the Joe Jackson Band, featuring Graham Maby on bass, Gary Sanford on guitar, and Dave Houghton on drums. Before long the group had signed a contract with A&M Records and in 1979 they released their first album, Look Sharp. The album reflected Jacksons careful study of pop forms; despite a no-frills, stripped-down sound that led many to identify Jackson as a New Waver, it was full of catchy lyrics and irresistible hooks. Thanks to the single Is She Really Going out with Him?, Look Sharp went gold in 1979, just before the release of the bands follow-up album, Im the Man; it too went gold. Joe Jackson was on top of the pop music world.

He was growing restless, however. Having mastered one form, Jackson saw no sense in repeating it, no matter how lucrative such a move might have been. Accordingly, he began work on Beat Crazy, a collection of reggae-influenced songs. Released in November 1980, it was one of his only albums to draw both harsh reviews and sluggish sales. Two months later Jackson broke up his band. An extended illness followed. Jackson told down beat contributor Bill Milkowski that during his convalescence, he was listening to [jazz great] Louis Jordan. I had split up my first band, I really didnt know what to do next. So I thought, What the hell, I dont

For the Record

Born August 11, 1955, in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England; married wife, Ruth, in 1981. Education: Attended the Royal College of Music (London) for three years.

Began playing piano in childhood, was a composer of instrumental music by age 12; worked at various musical gigs after dropping out of college, including a stint as the house pianist at the Portsmouth, England, Playboy Club; leader of the Joe Jackson Band, 1977-80; released first album, 1979; solo artist, 1981.

Addresses: Record company; A & M Records, 1416 N. LaBrea Ave., Hollywood, CA 90028.

have to do another album just yet. Why not do something just for the fun of it?

He proceeded to put together a swing group called Jumpin Jive, and to write some songs in the style of Jordan. I thought at first wed just do a few gigs, maybe do an EP or something. And it just snowballed, until we did an album and A & M put it out. Next thing I knew we were doing a British tour and then an American tour. And that album seems to be pretty popular still. A lot of people come up to me and tell me they like it.

Following the Jumpin Jive tour, Jackson rented an apartment in New York Citys East Village. His intent was to absorb the citys unique atmosphere and then distill his impressions into his fifth album. That album, Night and Day, was a unique blend of jazz, salsa, and pop. Its not nine songs about New York, Jackson explained to David Fricke in People. Its nine very universal songs that are influenced by New Yorks rhythms and sounds. However it was categorized, the album quickly became Jacksons greatest success thus far. The single Steppin Out became his first to reach the top ten, and it also won him Grammy nominations for record of the year and best pop male vocal performance. Even jazz critics, who had scorned Jumpin Jive, responded enthusiastically to Night and Day. down beats Bill Milkowski admitted that Jackson deserved newfound respect as a composer of alternately witty and sensitive songs, more sophisticated and worldly-wise than your average punk-rocker.

Experimentation with jazz and Latin idioms continued on Body and Soul, praised by Milkowski as Jacksons most pure and personal statement to date. This introspective album [is] a direct expression of emotion rather than the detached, ironic observation that marked much of his earlier work. Mark Peel of Stereo Review was also favorably impressed by the lush, emotional quality of Body and Soul. He commented: Anyone without the kind of New Music credentials Joe Jackson has would be hooted off to Las Vegas for making music as unapologetically romantic as that on his new Body and Soul album. But Jacksons honesty and intelligence let him get away with it.

Following the release of Body and Soul, Jackson took a two-year hiatus from recording. When he returned in 1986, it was with Big World, an album notable for both its eclectic collection of musical styles and for the unusual recording techniques used in making it. Reacting to the overproduced sound dominating pop music, Jackson had produced an entire album live, with no overdubs, retakes, or studio remixing. I feel its a very honest statement, the musician told Milkowski. I want people to know, even if they dont like it, that its a real performance and that no ones had his voice electronically altered to sound in tune. The drums havent been triggered by drum machines but were actually played by a drummer, and that kind of thing. Its sort of like truth-in-advertising.

Big World included sounds ranging from folk, funk, and hard rock to waltzes, tangos, and honky-tonk soul. Concerning this wide variety, Rob Hoerburger wrote in Rolling Stone that unfortunately, the big world proves just a little too big, even from someone as industrious as Jackson. In the past, his album concepts have been narrow enough for him to pay tribute, redefine, diverge and return. But theres no unity in Big World. Milkowski did not concur, finding in the album a cohesive commentary on how the very nature of travel allows one to step outside his or her own particular, nationalistic view of the world through an interaction with exotic cultures, customs, and musics.

Joe Jackson has given many reasons for his chameleon-like approach to music. He told Joe Contreras in Newsweek, I dont think Im original enough to have a definite style of my own that will stand up as a style. I use different musical styles in the same way I wear different clothes. On a more profound level, he told Milkowski, I think my music is a mixture of a lot of different things because I am by nature, I think, a traveller and by nature pretty cosmopolitan. By working with various styles, he hopes to promote open-mindedness. The world is getting pretty dangerous these days, and a lot of the problems are caused by the people in power being inflexible and not well-informed and not really understanding the other guys point of view. So its important to avoid being narrow-minded, and listening to the music of other cultures is not a bad start.

Selected discography

LPs; released by A & M

Look Sharp, 1979.

Im the Man, 1979.

Beat Crazy, 1980.

Jumpin Jive, 1981.

Night & Day, 1982.

Mikes Murder (soundtrack), 1983.

Body and Soul, 1984; reissued, 1986.

Big World, 1986.

Will Power, 1987.

Live:1980-1986, 1988.

Blaze of Glory, 1989.

Also wrote and recorded the film soundtrack Tucker: The Man and his Dream.

Sources

down beat, May 1986.

Newsweek, March 14, 1983.

People, February 14, 1983.

Rolling Stone, September 11,1986; July 16,1987; May 18,1989.

Stereo Review, July 1984.

Joan Goldsworthy

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