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Joe Jackson tackles Ellington, to play Strathmore

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Entertainment,Robert Fulton

When Joe Jackson set out to create an album interpreting some of Duke Ellington's finest work, the musician intentionally avoided using horns.

"It was actually the first real decision I made," Jackson said. "The first rule that I made was no horns. I think as soon as you start using trumpets and trombones and saxophones and clarinets, you're going to start sounding kind of like Duke Ellington, just not as good. In order to give an identity to any project, I think that comes about sometimes by what you don't do. It's very liberating when you say to yourself 'I'm not going to do this.' Then you have to ask, 'What can I do?' That's where the adventure starts, and you really have to use your imagination."

Joe Jackson's most recent album, "The Duke," debuted at the end of June. In support, Jackson hits the road later this month, kicking off his tour Saturday at the Strathmore in Bethesda.

When asked why he chose to tackle the work of Duke Ellington, Jackson simply said it's because he likes his music.

Onstage
Joe Jackson & the Bigger Band
Where: Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda
When: 8 p.m. Saturday
Info: $55 to $75; 301-581-5100; strathmore.org

"I just saw a tremendous potential for reinvention," Jackson elaborated. "It's such a huge catalog of classic stuff I thought could be taken into all kinds of directions that hadn't really been done."

"The Duke" benefits greatly not just from Jackson's interpretation, but from the addition of a number of guest performers. Sharon Jones sings on "I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues," and Iggy Pop appears on "It Don't Mean a Thing." The Roots' Questlove and violinist Regina Carter also appear.

"It came out better than I expected," Jackson said. "There's some people on the record that I didn't expect would end up being on it, and there are some who I thought would be on it that aren't. That changes it a bit. I worked with a lot of people I hadn't worked with before, and it was a great experience."

The Grammy-nominated English musician first came to prominence in the late '70s and early '80s with popular songs "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" and "Steppin' Out" but has since been more attracted to experimenting with jazz, blues and classical music.

For the upcoming tour, Jackson is traveling with a full band, which should lend itself to some interesting experimentation.

"Having this bigger band has enabled me to go back to some of the original arrangements, which haven't been played for years," Jackson said. "We always try to rearrange things because I think it keeps it interesting. If I'm going to presume to walk on stage and perform in front of an audience, I should at least be genuinely excited about it myself. Hopefully that will communicate to the audience."

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