Karl Denson keeps an open mind when it comes to music
Saxophonist brings Tiny Universe to O.P. Rockwell
July 11, 2017
One of the perks of Karl Denson's job as a jazz and funk saxophonist is meeting people during his tours.
Throughout the 30 years of touring, Denson and his band Tiny Universe have made friends in cities all over the world, including Park City.
So, Denson is looking forward to Saturday's gig at O.P. Rockwell.
"I have a lot of really good friends in Utah," Denson said during an interview with The Park Record. "That's the advantage of touring over all of these years. You make a lot of friends and you can see them on a regular basis. So, I'm coming to see some friends and play some music for them."
The show will feature an array of songs, including ones that were recorded for Tiny Universe's new album.
"We are also writing more new stuff," he said. "I know it's taking us a long time to do this album, but my records always take a long time to do."
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Unlike some bands who come up with themes for albums, Denson and his bandmates — guitarist DJ Williams, drummer Alan Evans, bassist Chris Stillwell, keyboardist David Veith, trumpeter Chris Littlefield and slide and lap-steel guitarist Seth Freeman — just want to create the best music they can.
"We wanted to write some good songs," Denson said. "I want to make something that sounds as good as is does the first time you hear it."
He also wanted to record more original work.
"The last record we did ('New Ammo') had a lot of covers," he said. "This one will have a lot more original tunes."
Throughout the years, Denson has honed his craft playing with Tiny Universe, but also branching out and playing with other musicians and groups such as the Allman Brothers Band and Phil Lesh from the Grateful Dead, as well as funk and reggae band Slightly Stoopid.
"Collaborating with other people is always a good opportunity to learn something if you're paying attention," Denson said. "When I get to play with different people like Phil or Anders Osborne, it's really just about listening and making myself fit into whatever they have to offer."
Denson said he tries to play what's appropriate to the music.
"Collaborations also teach you how to play music better on your own," he said. "You can spread yourself a little thin on purpose and be open to whatever comes up, because you don't want to get stuck putting a square peg into a round hole."
Denson's philosophy about having an open mind came during an epiphany he had when he was 18.
"I realized that playing jazz is probably not going to pay all the bills," he said with a laugh. "While I grew up playing all kids of music, I'm definitely a jazz guy at heart. But I did, however, start to diversify when I was 20 or 21 and started thinking more broadly."
While thinking broadly opened many doors for Denson, he still needed to be ready to step through those doors.
"My dad would always say, 'Luck favors the prepared,'" Denson said. "So, I practiced hard and learned how to play my instrument well. "
He also began writing songs.
"So when I got my first record deal, I had a cache of tunes ready to go," Denson said.
The saxophonist also has a policy when looking for other musicians to perform with.
"I try to find players who are strong," he said. "Since most of our shows are jazz gigs, they have to know how to play. Then they have to have an open mind to be able to hear other things.
"We call the band Tiny Universe because it's definitely a learning curve that comes with it. When someone joins us, they get thrown a lot of musical curve balls."
Over the past three decades, Denson has found he gets more satisfaction by playing the type of music he wants to play.
"I don't really get caught up in other people's expectations," he said. "But my biggest challenge is that sometimes I am too broad.
"That's something I'm trying to streamline, but at the same time you can see as a band we've come a long way bridging all of these different musical avenues."
There are still a bunch of artists Denson would like to work with.
"Right now, I'm listening to my hip-hop mix and there's J. Cole, Childish Gambino, Kendrik Lamar and Drake," he said. "Any of those guys would be fun to hang out and play music with."
Denson would also like to work with singer and songwriter Patty Griffin.
"She is one of my favorite singers," he said. "Oh, and I just discovered Andrew Bird. There is great stuff out there. And they make me want to do something that lasts."
Making something that lasts is why it's taking Tiny Universe a long time to record the new album.
"I think we already have 11 songs, but we're going back into the studio to knock out probably another five or six in order to get to a more cohesive track listing," Denson said. "Right now, the album is a little too scattered. We listened to it, and decided to go back and write new songs."
When asked about a projected release date, Denson laughed.
"I can tell you one, but I would be guessing," he said.
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe will perform at 9 p.m. on Saturday, July 15, at O.P. Rockwell, 268 Main St. Bonanza Town and Elektric Voodoo will open the show. For information and tickets, visit http://www.oprockwell.com. For information about Karl Denson, visit karldenson.com.