In the lead up to the 2016 edition of the TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival, Coastal Jazz asked various members of the jazz "family" to share their thoughts about artists who will perform at the festival. Today, marketing consultant Emma Lancaster talks about her newfound love for British iconoclast Joe Jackson.
“The album [Fast Forward] combines the beauty and intelligence of his best earlier work with a new quality: warmth, generosity, possibly even contentment. I find it more moving than anything he’s released in a long time..”—Sarah Larson, The New Yorker
When I drew the straw of writing about Joe Jackson, I was afraid in a way that I was not when writing about Sarah McLachlan and case/lang/veirs. I have a very… conflicted relationship with the piano (thanks, Royal Conservatory of Music), and in my mind, Joe Jackson is primarily a pianist. So I started researching, and in the process was reminded just what a cool, unpredictable guy Joe Jackson is. Sarah Larson’s excellent New Yorker article and some deep YouTube holes kindled a burning desire to see his Jazz Festival opening show on June 24, where he’ll open for himself on the piano and then be joined by his killer band.
Jackson grew up in Portsmouth, England, in a working-class family mostly uninterested in the arts. At school, he apparently felt like a misfit: bad at sports and socially unredeemed by his talent for violin and piano. He got a scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music, in London, where he studied percussion and gradually grew sceptical of the contemporary classical scene. All throughschool, in his teens and 20s, he played gigs, alone and with bands, determined to make a living as a musician.
In 1979, Look Sharp introduced him to a pop audience with his completely different sound. “Is She Really Going Out With Him” was a snotty breath of fresh air at the end of a decade marked by prog-rock excess and punk rock fury. I'm the Man (containing the title track and “It’s Different For Girls”) followed within a year by 1980’s darker, more reggae-influenced Beat Crazy. (Jackson was, after all, a percussionist.)
In 1981 Jackson tried something new, recording Jumpin' Jive, a 'musical vacation' paying tribute to Swing and Jump Blues artists such as Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway. His New York album, Night and Day was sophisticated and urban sounding—and inescapable if you were alive at the time. “Steppin’ Out”, “Breaking Us In Two” and “Real Men” were mega-hits, and the record went platinum in the US. Jackson relocated to New York City, and his next album Body and Soul (1984) was in a similar vein to Night and Day but featured a horn section (which, along with the Blue Note-inspired cover art, led many people to assume he'd made a jazz record).
He spent the 1990s creating personal, challenging and eclectic work. The turn of the century saw a burst of creativity: Jackson won his first Grammy (Best Pop Instrumental Album for the non-traditional, non-orchestral Symphony No.1) and he released his book A Cure For Gravity. In 2003 Jackson astonished everyone, including himself, by re-forming the original Joe Jackson Band for a stunning new album, Volume 4, and a tour. He made his first film appearance, as a pub pianist, in The Greatest Game Ever Played, which also features some of his music.He was also awarded a Fellowship by the Royal Academy of Music and an Honourary Doctorate by the University of Portsmouth.
In 2006 he turned his attention back to pure song writing and did a short trio tour with Graham Maby and Dave Houghton. He then moved to Berlin, where his next album Rain was recorded in 2007. His current release Fast Forward (2015) was recorded in New York, Amsterdam, Berlin, and New Orleans, and features first-class guest musicians including Bill Frisell, Brian Blades, Earl Harvin, and members of Galactic.
That recent album is astonishing. Really highly recommended, as is a deep dive into this eclectic artist’s back catalogue. From a gig I was not too excited about to a gig I’m totally stoked for, all in a couple of days of research—I hope I’ve saved you the research and gotten you excited for what promises to be a really inspiring, and inspired, show.