Denson’s musical interests universal 

Who: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe

Where: Whistler Conference Centre

When: Feb. 23

Karl Denson cites Herbie Hancock and The Roots as mentors, and influences as diverse as Maceo Parker and Parliament Funk, but he is mainly a self-taught musician.

"If you look at jazz history – Miles Davis, Hancock – they were different incarnations every five or six years. I’m trying to keep the music fresh," says Denson, who will bring his Tiny Universe band to the Whistler Conference Centre Saturday as part of the Snocore Icicle Ball. Michael Franti and Spearhead, Saul Williams and Blackalicious are also part of the show.

Denson’s early days of music began in Santa Ana, California.

"I actually started out playing the cello. I didn’t plan on being a sax player. But a kid carrying a cello home from school looks pretty funny, and I started playing sax at age 13," he laughs.

He’s played with all kinds of musicians and all kinds of styles in his quest to keep things fresh. About a decade ago he teamed up with Lenny Kravitz.

"I met Lenny through a friend during the early ’90s, when he was playing bass. He called me from NYC to work on Let Love Rule , and the rest (of the work) went from there," says Denson, saxophonist and founder of groove band Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe.

"Lenny is a complete producer, so you come in and he tells you what he wants you to do and how he wants you to play. It was great to work with someone who has such a strong work ethic," he adds.

"Unlike most musicians, he works in the early morning so we’d be in the Waterfront studio by about 10 o’clock," says Denson, who played on two Kravitz albums. He toured for five years with Kravitz, from Europe to Japan.

"One show we did the rain was pouring down and we played to a crowd of 60,000 people. Everywhere we went, people were always excited to see him," he says.

Japanese audiences enticed Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe to the Far East again, and a return tour with the Bluenote jazz club was organized.

"We toured as a promotion for the club. I didn’t really know what to expect of that audience and (their response to our music). People there have no problems staring, which is so different from here. Some of the younger people were getting their groove on and dancing," says Denson.

The sax player has never limited himself to one job at a time. About the time he was working with Kravitz he was also part of the Greyboy Allstars.

"I worked with DJ Greyboy in ’92 on some recordings, and then Ubiquity’s Home Cookin’ compilation came out. I was helping out later at his record release party which featured his own freestyling pieces, and we started playing together."

Following their music partnership, the band released two albums, West Coast Boogaloo and A Town Called Earth .

Unwind Your Mind became their best known club hit in 1993, still re-mixed by DJs today. Denson also collaborated with Greyboy on Freestylin’, a tribute to acid jazz.

In the mid-90s, Denson completed four acoustic jazz recordings, including Chunky Pecan Pie featuring Dave Holland, a member of the all-star trio of Miles Davis alumni group.

"I was frustrated about not doing vocals, so in 1997 I did some different musical stuff and toured less," he says.

Dance Lesson #2 was the result, a solo release on Blue Note.

Denson will be appearing in Whistler with Chris Littlefield on trumpet, Zak Najor on drums, Brian Jordan on guitar, Ron Johnson on bass, and Mike Dillon on percussion.

"I like touring, and I don’t think I would stop," says Denson. "The travelling and the hotels can get boring, but the shows never get boring, that’s what I love!" he says.

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