Sax and flute master Karl Denson might be a funk and jazz musician at heart, but as a popular attraction on the jam band circuit and as a touring member of the Rolling Stones, he’s also made his mark in the rock world. As a fan of the ’70s jazz fusion movement, he’s brought his own take on genre-bending to his various endeavors, including his groups Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe and the Greyboy Allstars.
So Denson and the Tiny Universe paying tribute to the Allman Brothers Band — another group who distilled various styles into something uniquely original — makes perfect sense. The band will bring its “Eat a Bunch of Peaches” Allmans show to Webster Hall on Saturday.
We recently chatted with Denson about his love for the Allmans, why the sax fits so well in rock and roll and KDTU’s 2019 album “Gnomes and Badgers.”
How did your Eat a bunch of Peaches idea come about?
We’ve been doing it for a little over a year. It just came out of a love of the Allman Brothers, and when we started doing it kind of stuck. The music kind of works for the band. So it’s actually outlasted any of our other tributes.
What do you like about the Allmans’ music?
I like the songwriting. It’s just that we’re always working on this as a band and me as a writer myself and, Allman Brothers songs are just really well-crafted songs.
You do a great rendition of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” That seems like a song that really fits a band like yours.
Yeah, it’s funny, because saying that about the composition, that was the song that was on the tip of my tongue. It’s just that kind of having different sections that are so different, and I also like that it’s through-composed. It goes from one place to another. Most songs, even when they’re kind of long ones, they usually return to the original idea. But ‘Elizabeth Reed’ goes straight through.
Were you a fan of rock music growing up?
Not a ton. I started playing in seventh grade, and probably by the end of eighth grade I got into some Jimi Hendrix and Buddy Miles and Santana, and that was my rock introduction, I guess. Then later on in high school I started hearing a lot more, like I kind of discovered prog rock in my senior year, ELP and King Crimson and stuff like that. But I was basically a jazz guy. The cool thing is back then there was fusion, and it was like jazz and rock and roll mixed in a really cool way. Kind of the prog rock thing had already been happening in the jazz world in the form of fusion. I was definitely feeling some guitar-driven rock but not necessarily the Allman Brothers. I’d hear them on the radio.
“Gnomes and Badgers” has been really well received. How do you feel about the reaction to the album?
You know what, it’s done really well. As far as the critics go, it’s done really well for us. And I have a lot of fans coming up now and when we’re playing and doing signings and stuff, and they seem to be really excited about it. I think for us, adding that much new material at one time is really refreshing for the band, and adding that many vocal tunes. And it gives the band kind of a sense of purpose.
How familiar were you with the Rolling Stones’ material and the saxophone parts when you became their touring sax player?
I was pretty familiar with it because I had been a Bobby Keys fan when I was 19, 20 years old, and in clubs people started mentioning Bobby Keys, he’s the guy with the Rolling Stones. And I liked his playing.
Why is the sax a good fit for rock music?
The saxophone is just a great instrument, and it’s very expressive, I think even more so than guitar. The way it’s manipulated. It’s directly connected to you. It’s really a voice. It’s a classic instrument and it made the transition [to rock]. I was there before the electric guitar.
What will you be focusing on in 2020?
I think next year we’re going to try to get people involved in this election, just to have a small part in inspiring people to get out and vote. We’ll possibly be focused on that.
Photo by Robbie Jeffers