Throughout his 33-year recording career, Joe Jackson has taken on nearly as many musical styles as exist in any given music store -- certainly rock, pop, punk, reggae, jazz, big band swing, bossa nova and classical.
So it shouldn't come as a surprise he'd be gutsy enough to take on Duke Ellington.
Jackson's latest album, "The Duke," features recast renditions of Ellington fare such as "Take the 'A' Train," "Satin Doll," "It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing)," "Caravan" and more, with a batch of guest vocalists (Iggy Pop, Sharon Jones) and a crack ensemble that includes Steve Vai, the Roots Ahmir "?uestlove" Thompson, Christian McBride and Detroit-born violinist Regina Carter, who's also part of Jackson's touring Bigger Band. But Jackson, 58, is at something of a loss to identify his inspiration for the project.
"I've been a fan for a long, long time," he says, "and for reasons I can't completely explain, over the last few years more and more Ellington tunes seemed to keep coming into my head.
"And when that would happen, I'd think, 'What could I do with this to take it in a direction that hasn't been done.' There seemed to be so many possibilities that it gradually built up to a sort of boiling point where I felt like I've got to do something about it."
And, not surprisingly, Jackson found a kinship between his boundary-breaking approach to music and Ellington's.
"He's always been sort of a roll model and someone I've always admired on several levels," Jackson acknowledges. "He just had no respect at all for musical categories or genres. I think probably the most famous thing he ever said was that there are only two kinds of music -- good and bad.
"People like that, like Ellington or Frank Zappa, are inspiring to me, because that's kind of the way I am, just by nature and not by any sort of conscious plan. As long as I try to create something spontaneously and without thinking about it too much, it just comes out as something very eclectic, and that makes me happy."
Joe Jackson and the Bigger Band featuring Regina Carter performs at 8:30 p.m. Sept. 27 at the MIchigan Theater, 603 E. Liberty St., Ann Arbor. Tickets are $35-$65. Call 734-668-8463 or visit www.michtheater.org.
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