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It's Karl Denson's Universe 

We're all just playing in it

You might have heard Karl Denson's singing, saxophone playing or flute rocking in a few different places. For one, his work with acid jazz group The Greyboy Allstars defined mid to late '90s soul funk dance music.

He plays soul music with The Blind Boys of Alabama, reggae/rock with Slightly Stoopid, stadium rock with Lenny Kravitz, hip-hop with Blackalicious and funk/jazz with Stanton Moore. Oh, and in case you haven't heard, he took over for the late, great Bobby Keys as the Rolling Stones' touring saxophonist. Now he's headed to Central Oregon with Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, his more straightforward jazz/jam group centered around his virtuosic saxophone skills.

Denson sits in with so many incredible musicians as a way to keep things fresh for himself. "Playing with all the different bands, I definitely don't get bored," says Denson. "Greyboy Allstars is kind of my favorite thing to do. Musically, it's fun and challenging on a certain level. My thing (Karl Denson's Tiny Universe) is my thing and that's fun to do. Phil and Friends has been the newest thing I've been doing and that's been opening me up to the Grateful Dead catalog, which is great. I do Slightly Stoopid from time to time and those are my boys. And then The Rolling Stones are just...that's The Rolling Stones. I'm not complaining."

Denson's older brother played saxophone, which initially piqued his interest. "It was a cool instrument," says Denson. "Back in the day schools treated playing an instrument like part of your complete education so I ended up in a classroom playing saxophone and listening to really good jazz. It took on a life of its own eventually and by the time I was in college I realized I was taking more music classes than anything else."

At 60, Denson has recently started learning to play the guitar. When I asked him if he was going to play guitar on KDTU's new record, he laughed and replied "No! I'm not that good. It's more of a writing tool. It'll be a few years before I can play enough to sit and sing and play for people, so for now it's just a writing tool. I work usually from melodies. I'll have a melody and then I'll start digging into other possibilities. With the guitar, the cool thing is it kind of makes sense. When you learn five songs on the guitar you kinda know 20 because they're all so similar. It gets me out of my head and into a more simple space of trying to think about writing."

Regardless of who he's playing with, Karl Denson is always exciting. And as he expands his musical palate, I expect that won't be changing anytime soon.

Karl Denson's Tiny Universe

Tuesday, Jan. 31. 8pm.

Volcanic Theatre Pub, 70 SW Century Dr., Bend


Tickets at

About The Author

Jared Rasic

Film critic and author of food, arts and culture stories for the Source Weekly since 2010.
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