When Joe Jackson set out to pay tribute to legendary big band musician Duke Ellington with his latest album, The Duke, he knew that he didn't want it to sound like anything Ellington had done. In fact, Jackson eliminated the one instrument that was a major element in many of Ellington's compositions.
"There are no horns on the record," Jackson told The Huffington Post. "That was the rule that I made for myself because I didn't want it to sound anything like Ellington. I didn't do [this album] in a very reverent spirit."
Despite being best known for his pop hits -- "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" and "Steppin' Out" -- Jackson has always had an affinity for Ellington since he first picked up one of his records when he was a teenager. Therefore, after years of admiration, the idea to record an album's worth of Ellington classics just seemed natural.
"Ellington is immortal," said Jackson. "He's one of the giants of music, so nothing that I could do to his music, no matter how good or bad, was going to change that. There's no way I could hurt his reputation. Not to mention that Ellington constantly reworked his own music. I was just learning from the master."
The Duke features a wide variety of guest musicians -- ?uestlove, Steve Vai -- but one of the more intriguing tracks on the album is "It Don't Mean A Thing (If You Ain't Got That Swing)," a duet between Jackson and punk rocker Iggy Pop. There was one track, however, that almost didn't make the cut.
"'I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good)' was difficult for me because I didn't think I could sing it," Jackson revealed. "We went through a process of trying to get several other people to sing it. But I guess it was fate, or something, because several people were unavailable. Everyone kept telling me that I should sing it, so I ended up singing it, and I think it's OK."
Huffington Post Entertainment is premiering one of Jackson's favorite tracks off the album, "I'm Beginning to See the Light" -- a medley of Ellington's "I'm Beginning to See The Light," "Take the A Train" and "Cotton Tail."
"I didn't think that I was going to do 'Take the A Train' because it was so well-known," said Jackson. "I didn't think that I could add an original take on it, but at some point, I realized that the melodies were quite similar and that I could create a lyrical bridge. I'm really happy with that one."
Jackson is currently planning a tour in support of The Duke. While he's still trying to figure out how to mash his iconic tone with Ellington's in a live setting, Jackson is excited to start playing around with the arrangements.
"When you deliberately leave certain things out, it forces you to use your imagination and see what else you can do."
The Duke drops on June 26.
Listen to the exclusive premiere of "I'm Beginning to See the Light" below.