Karl Denson wears several hats, literally and musically. He’s a jazz cat and a funk brother, and it must be tough to keep track of which band he’s in at any given moment; he has at least three, including Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, The Greyboy Allstars and The Karl Denson Trio. Karl Denson is arguably one of the hardest working musicians on the scene, successfully building a name for himself over the last 2 plus decades.
REVISION: Karl confirmed that he was joining The Rolling Stones on saxophone for nine shows in Australia and New Zealand at the end of the month- Congrats!
AX: Your career has been critically acclaimed, from working with Lenny Kravitz, Blackalicious, Slightly Stoopid and even alternative group Switchfoot, but who is an artist you have always wanted to collaborate with?
KD: Tedeschi Trucks band, no doubt about it.
AX: As leader and composer of Tiny Universe, how do your arrangements come to be? Is this a modern emulation of the big band jazz style from the 1920s and 30s?
KD: Very interesting question. As a group all we want is to play dance music. This, I would say, is what really connects us to that idiom and that era. Getting people up and groovin’ is what we’re all about. Obviously pre-arranging a big band is much more work than improvising, but in terms of writing and conducting I perform a very similar role.
AX: I believe that the latest release “New Ammo” is a great direction for you and your group, especially with renditions of “Sure Shot” by the Beastie Boys, “Seven Nation Army” by The White Stripes and “Hang Me Out to Dry” by The Cold War Kids. What spurred you to do this?
KD: Part of what the jam world does is put their own spin on well-known covers. For the longest time we tried to cover tunes that nobody had ever heard of, but now everyone can find out the title one way or another. When we started to do more modern tunes it was almost as though you would hear these songs everywhere, but they never changed. We really wanted to deconstruct these tracks and put our own gritty Tiny Universe flavor on the sounds of “Seven Nation Army” , “Sure Shot” and “Hang Me Out to Dry”, to really make it our own.
AX: What’s on the horizon for you musically with KDTU?
KD: Well we just kind of started on a period of writing together with is really nice, because up to this point I’ve been the main writer and I write everything then teach it to the band. However, over the last few months we have been collaborating together and writing as a group. So we have a bunch of new ideas, and Chris Thile, from the Greyboy Allstars, has really put a whole different twist on the band.
AX: Tell us about your experience playing with String Cheese on New Years
KD: They’re my boys. It’s really just a hang. Getting to see your buddies and jam for thousands of people; it’s really what its all about. The “Impressions” jam by John Coltrane is one we have always been fond of.
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe performing at Phases of the Moon 2014
AX: What was it like working with Soulive on the latest release “Spark”?
KD: Those guys are badass. What Neil Evans is doing with his left hand playing bass on his Hammond is absolutely sick. I mean nobody else in the world right now can do this. We were actually hanging at Catskill Chill last weekend geeking over all these different sounds he can explore, it’s absolutely ridiculous.
AX: There are so many genres with which you explore, whether live or on record. From reggae to hard rock and rap you guys are all over the place. How do you approach these different genres?
KD: As I have grown as a person and musician it’s been easy to pick up things here and there to implement into my music. Trust me when I say I listen to a LOT of different kinds of music. My spectrum is all over the place, I am always learning new methods. One thing is for certain though: I like things rootsy, that’s the one thing I have to have. What were doing on tour right now is a gospel/blues/funk show.
Karl D performing the grill at Jam Cruise 2013
AX: How excited for Jam Cruise are you?
KD: Its going to be pretty awesome. This year we will be doing a late-night Rick James tribute, it’s our special treat.