Joe grew up in Portsmouth and, aged 11, joined a school violin class – he found himself fascinated by music and eagerly began studying music theory and history. A couple of years later, Joe switched to piano – his new ambition, to be a composer – and, within a few years, was writing songs and leaning more towards pop.
At 18 Joe won a scholarship to study Composition, Piano, and Percussion at London’s Royal Academy of Music. During the three years he spent there during the mid-70s he broadened his horizons further by working with a fringe theatre group, studying jazz with Sir John Dankworth, singing with NYJO and playing in pop cover bands with names like Edward Bear and the Misty Set.
By the time he left the Academy, he was the co-leader and songwriter of Arms and Legs, a proto-punk outfit which released two singles on the MAM label before burning out in 1976.
By 1978 Joe was living in London and an album-length demo, called Look Sharp – made with his own band – found its way to American producer David Kershenbaum, a talent scout for A&M Records. Joe was immediately signed, Look Sharp was professionally re-recorded in August ’78, the Joe Jackson Band finally started to play regular gigs and the album was released in January 1979. Look Sharp contained the hit Is She Really Going Out With Him and was followed within a year by I’m The Man, containing the hit It’s Different For Girls.
In 1981 Joe recorded Jumpin’ Jive, a tribute to Swing and Jump Blues artists such as Louis Jordan and Cab Calloway. Afterwards Joe spent time in New York writing and recording Night and Day, a more sophisticated and melodic record built around keyboards and Latin percussion, rather than guitars. Released in 1983, this became his biggest success, with hit singles Steppin’Out, Breaking Us In Two and Real Men, going platinum in the US.
Joe continued recording and touring throughout the 80s and 90s with a number of differing aggregations and won a Grammy in 2000 – Best Pop Instrumental Album – for the non-traditional, non-orchestral Symphony No.1. In 2003 Joe astonished everyone, including himself, by re-forming the original Joe Jackson Band for a stunning new album, Volume 4, and undertaking a lengthy tour. The reunion was always intended as a one-off, but it also produced a live album, Afterlife, in 2004.
Around this time he was awarded a Fellowship by the Royal Academy of Music and an Honorary Doctorate by the University of Portsmouth.
Joe’s most recent project is a tribute to one of his greatest musical heroes, Duke Ellington. The Duke is an often radical re-interpretation of fifteen Ellington classics, arranged into ten tracks, and featuring an eclectic roster of guest artists including Iggy Pop, Ahmir ‘Questlove’ Thompson and other members of the Roots, Sharon Jones, Steve Vai, and jazz violin star Regina Carter.
He currently lives in Berlin.