Jackson was born on August 11, 1954, in Burton-on-Trent, England,
but grew up in the South Coast naval port town of Portsmouth.
An awkward, skinny, asthmatic child, he joined a violin class
(aged 11) in order to escape from school sports, and soon fell
in love with music. He claims that this saved his life.
Pretty soon Joe switched to piano and started to compose. His
teenage musical hero was Beethoven, but he also loved jazz and
rock, and by age 16 he was playing piano gigs, trying to entertain
drunken sailors and skinheads in local pubs, or diners in a Greek
restaurant. By age 18, he was playing clubs, discos and naval
bases in bands with embarassing haircuts and embarassing names
('Edward Bear,' 'The Misty Set'). He also won a scholarship to
study Composition at London's Royal Academy of Music.
In London, Jackson broadened his horizons further, collaborating
on a Fringe theatre production called 'Schoolgirl Slaves of Soho'
and playing piano in the National Youth Jazz Orchestra. But he
became disillusioned with the Academy and the prospects for a
'serious' composer, and plunged into the rock world, notably in
the proto-punk band Arms and Legs, which self-destructed after
releasing two unsuccessful singles. Jackson then spent a year
and a half on the cabaret circuit (including a stint as Playboy
Club pianist) in order to raise money to make demos and launch
his own band.
In the summer of 1978 those demos were heard by producer David
Kershenbaum, who got Joe signed to A&M Records. The debut album,
LOOK SHARP, was recorded right away, but not released until 1979,
to be followed in the same year by I'M THE MAN, and in 1980 by
BEAT CRAZY. The Joe Jackson Band were wildly successful and toured
constantly for three years, getting up to all the usual mischief.
After the breakup of that band, Jackson took a 'vacation' from
his own music and made an album of old jump-blues and swing tunes,
JUMPIN' JIVE. He then returned to songwriting with a style which
was both more sophisticated and truer to his eclectic roots, and
the next decade saw him constantly pushing the pop envelope without
ever actually abandoning it. Joe recorded and toured throughout
the 80s, releasing NIGHT AND DAY (1982), BODY AND SOUL (1984),
BIG WORLD (1986) and BLAZE OF GLORY (1989). He also started to
diversify into other areas, notably film scores, of which MIKE'S
MURDER (1983) and Francis Ford Coppola's TUCKER (1988) were released
by A&M. There was also an album of instrumental compositions,
WILL POWER (1987) and the double album LIVE 1980-86, which contained
many new versions of older songs.
In 1991 Jackson signed to Virgin Records and made his last truly
mainstream pop/rock album, LAUGHTER AND LUST. After a world tour
which left him exhausted and in danger of 'just going through
the motions', Joe took a couple of years off to re-think. The
result was NIGHT MUSIC (1994), a gentle, soul-searching record
and an artistic breakthrough. The pop envelope had been torn apart.
Joe now describes himself as 'retired from the pop world . . .
not so much in a musical sense, because I'll still write songs
and everything I do will have pop elements. But I'm just not playing
by the rules of the pop world any more, not thinking in terms
of singles or charts or airplay or competing with anyone.' As
a result, Joe says he is 'working with more freedom and enthusiasm
than I've felt in years.'
Joe's next album, HEAVEN AND HELL (1997) was released in an innovative
new partnership with Sony Classical. This was followed in 1999
by the non-traditional, non-orchestral SYMPHONY NO. 1, and his
debut as an author, A CURE FOR GRAVITY, a 'book about music thinly
disguised as a memoir'. Joe has since then created his own label,
MANTICORE, in association with Sony. Its first release was SUMMER
IN THE CITY, featuring new versions of old songs and covers recorded
live in New York. Jackson's next release will be NIGHT AND DAY
II, a sequel to his classic 1982 album.
Joe Jackson lives mostly in New York City but escapes regularly
to a house in his home town of Portsmouth.