Joe Jackson To Release Duke Ellington Tribute Album

"I revere Duke Ellington, but I didn't want this to be a reverent album," Joe Jackson says of The Duke, his new tribute to American jazz giant Ellington.

True to Jackson's word, The Duke is a decidedly unconventional salute to Ellington, demonstrating the timeless brilliance of his classic compositions while showcasing Jackson's sublime skills as an arranger, instrumentalist and vocal interpreter. Although it's only the second time he's recorded an album not comprised of his own compositions, The Duke is nonetheless a deeply personal project for Jackson, whose longstanding affinity for Ellington's pioneering spirit has served as a key inspiration throughout his own three-decades-plus career.

The Duke finds the iconoclastic English singer/composer/arranger/keyboardist and five-time Grammy nominee interpreting 15 Ellington classics over the course of ten tracks, interspersing melodic and rhythmic elements of various compositions in a manner that's consistent with Ellington's own freewheeling approach. Rather than emulating the songs' original big-band settings, Jackson filters the material through his own musical imagination while exploring an assortment of unexpected grooves and textures. The resulting album is a seamless fusion of sounds and styles, whose abundant sense of playfulness is consistent with Ellington's boundary-breaking attitude.

“Ellington didn’t consider his own arrangements to be sacred,” Jackson notes. “He constantly reworked them, sometimes quite radically. So I think my approach is in the spirit of the man himself.”

Jackson’s distinctive voice is featured on I’m Beginning To See The Light, Mood Indigo, and I Got It Bad (And That Ain’t Good), while It Don’t Mean A Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing) finds him trading vocals with punk icon Iggy Pop. R&B diva Sharon Jones, meanwhile, shines with a soulful I Ain’t Got Nothin’ But The Blues. In keeping with Ellington’s multiculturalism, Jackson also encouraged Iranian singer Sussan Deyhim to perform a soaring Caravan in Farsi, and Lilian Vieira, of the Brazilian/Dutch collective Zuco 103, to create a sunny, sexy Portuguese version of Perdido.

The album’s striking mix of electronic and organic textures is especially evident on instrumentals like Isfahan, Rockin’ In Rhythm, The Mooche, and Black and Tan Fantasy. The musicians include two contemporary jazz stars, violinist Regina Carter and bassist Christian McBride; rock guitar hero Steve Vai; drummer Ahmir ‘?uestlove’ Thompson and other members of The Roots; and two of Jackson’s old associates, guitarist Vinnie Zummo and percussionist Sue Hadjopoulos. The album was recorded and mixed by the legendary Elliot Scheiner (Steely Dan, Sting, Bob Dylan).

Though The Duke is a tribute album, it’s also very much a Joe Jackson album, consistent with his long-standing sense of musical adventure.

“When I started this”, Jackson says, “It felt a little daunting – like, how am I gonna pull this off? But it started to pick up momentum, and took on a life of its own. I got to work with people I never thought I’d be able to get, and they were all extremely enthusiastic and supportive of the project. It all came together in a way that surpassed my expectations. And it’s been a hell of a lot of fun.”

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