Journey through sound with Joe Jackson in Cincinnati

Photo: Connect with Joe Jackson at Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre June 13; photo: Jacob Blickenstaff

By Tim Walker

“I don’t think anyone knows what the hell to do,” Joe Jackson tells the Dayton City Paper about the state of the record business and his place in it. “The music industry now is like a bunch of chickens running around with their heads cut off.”

During his four decades as a working musician, Jackson has released a total of 20 albums, which run the gamut from power pop and movie soundtracks to jazz standards and neo-classical orchestral music. Refusing to be pigeonholed, the artist has toured the world over, written books (like his 1999 autobiography, “A Cure for Gravity”), won industry accolades, and has seen firsthand the changes the internet and digital downloading have wrought upon the fading recording industry. And Jackson remains unsure about the future of the music business.

“All of these questions about the state of the music industry now, they kind of give me a headache, because it’s such a weird time,” Jackson says. “It’s changed so much, and it’s still changing so fast, that I don’t think anyone knows what to think or what to do. And I think that includes all the people who are supposed to be the smart people—the big time managers, the big publicists, and so on.” Jackson paused to collect his thoughts before continuing, “My feeling is, how does it affect me? The more I think about it, the more I realize that the only thing I have any control over is my own work. So the only thing I can really do that might make the world a tiny little bit better is to make the best music I can, and put on the best show that I can.”

And Joe Jackson brings his best on his current tour-the fourth in support of his most recent album, 2015’s Fast Forward—to Cincinnati’s Taft Theatre on June 13. Starting at 8 p.m., the show features Jackson and a band made up of long-time sideman and crowd favorite Graham Maby on bass, Teddy Kumpel on guitar, and Doug Yowell on drums.

When asked what people can expect to see at the upcoming show, Jackson laughs and replies, “Some old stuff, some new stuff. And a few surprises.” And when it comes to surprising his fans, he knows what he’s talking about.

His first album, 1979’s Look Sharp, featured the acerbic hits “Sunday Papers,” “Fools in Love,” and “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” and was hailed by music journalists as a leading example of New Wave British pop. The Joe Jackson Band’s two stylistically similar follow-ups, I’m the Man and Beat Crazy, were also successful, but it was the breakup of that band and the artist’s subsequent solo releases like Jumpin’ Jive, Body and Soul, and Big World which saw him approaching music from a variety of angles and styles, some of which proving more popular than others. He struck gold worldwide in 1982 with the guitar-less pop of his Night and Day album, which featured the MTV-fed smash hits “Real Men,” “Breaking Us in Two,” and “Steppin’ Out,” still his biggest-selling hit single, which received two Grammy nominations and practically made him a pop star.

While the handful of pop hits mentioned here may define Jackson’s career for many, it is his music from the past two decades that fans, some of whom have followed his work since they first heard his music as a teenager in the early ’80s, return to again and again. Symphony No. 1, from 1999, which won the 2001 Grammy for Best Pop Instrumental Album, is like no other; a four-movement orchestral piece for jazz and rock musicians, the album was released on Sony’s Classical label and features Steve Vai and Terence Blanchard. The Duke, from 2012, Jackson’s 17th album, is a stirring tribute to Duke Ellington and debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Top Jazz Albums chart.

However, Jackson, who turns 63 later this year, insists that at this point in his career he makes no assumptions when releasing a new record into the marketplace. “I have no expectations at all when I finish a song or put it out,” he says. “I wouldn’t be at all surprised if no one gave a shit, if it never got heard anywhere at all. How do you define a successful record? There are lots of different ways to define it now, whereas it used to be a lot more obvious. The only time I really feel like I’ve made a connection is when I play live, and that’s one of the reasons I keep doing it, keep going back out on the road yet again, because I love it, and I love being able to make that connection. I think you only really get that when you play live.”

Playing live at the Taft Theatre June 13, Jackson and his band will, no doubt, make those connections and bring life to his own unique brand of challenging, inspired music. Whether you’re a fan from years ago or a more recent convert, chances are it will be a show you’ll long remember.

Joe Jackson and his band play Tuesday, June 13 at the Taft Theatre, 317 East Fifth St. in Cincinnati. Show starts at 8 p.m., doors at 7. Tickets are $29.50–$58.50. For more information, please call 513.232.6220 or visit JoeJackson.com.

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Tim Walker
Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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