music / Columns

Jam Central Station: Karl Denson

June 16, 2018 | Posted by Jeff Modzelewski



Karl Denson has had a long and successful career with a variety of musical projects. Denson got his first break recording and touring with Lenny Kravitz on his first two albums. This work helped Denson make a name for himself as a proficient sax player who could cross genres with ease. While working with Kravitz, Denson also wanted to pursue his funk and jazz roots in some other music. He paired up with DJ Greyboy to found the Greyboy All-Stars, an acid-jazz group led by Denson and DJ Greyboy. The group released their first album in 1995, and the album had significant success in Europe. DJ Greyboy wasn’t interested in touring full-time, however, and left the project. Despite the fact that the band lost their namesake, they continued on without DJ Greyboy, recording and touring throughout the early 90’s.

During the 90’s, Denson also began releasing solo albums and recording with other artists. He released three solo albums in the 90’s, and did studio work for a variety of musicians. While a saxophonist rarely gets significant recognition outside of small circles of jazz enthusiasts, Denson’s ability to mix styles, his energetic performances, and nearly-constant touring helped him pull in fans from many different genres. He released four solo acoustic jazz albums in the early 90’s and split his time between multiple projects. He finally left Lenny Kravitz’s band in 1994 to pursue his own work full-time. He spent the rest of the 90’s working with the Greyboy All-Stars, releasing solo albums, and touring with the Karl Denson Trio.

In 1999, Denson decided to go in another direction, with more focus on funk, R&B, dance, and vocals. He put together Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, a project that would allow him to expand beyond the acid jazz that had been his focus. He put together Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe as an opportunity to add some of these additional elements to his music, and put together the right combination of musicians to make it happen. The band toured for three years before releasing an album, playing clubs and festivals around the country. By the time The Bridge was released in 2002, fans had been waiting with baited breath to see what this band would do.

The album turned out to be a success in a variety of circles. Jazz fans who had been following Denson for over a decade were excited to hear his new project. Funk and R&B fans appreciated the new direction that Denson had gone. And, since The Bridge was accessible for casual fans, it was a great introduction for jam-band fans who might not be into jazz or funk but who appreciated the energy the band brought and the constant touring. The band continued to pack clubs and get a great response at festivals with high-energy late night shows.

Denson also released another solo album in 2002, and recorded on a solo album by Galactic’s Stanton Moore. KDTU became Denson’s primary focus though, and the band gave Denson an outlet to explore jazz, R&B, funk, hip-hop, and dance music all in one band. The band continued to tour, and released an EP in 2006. Denson also regrouped with DJ Greyboy and the Greyboy All-Stars and the band released their first album in over a decade in 2007. He also put together his own trio and released Lunar Orbit that same year.

Denson released another excellent solo album in 2104 with New Ammo and toured once again with Tiny Universe. He then went back out on the road with playing sax with The Rolling Stones and even appearing on their 2015 live album. Over the past couple of years, Denson has been actively rotating between Tiny Universe, Greyboy All-Stars, his Trio, and other guest appearances and one-off shows. Despite spending the the better part of the past 30 years on the road, Denson shows no signs of slowing down, and the fans aren’t looking for him to take a break. He’s a regular on the festival circuit, touring theaters, opening for other bands, and he’s known for leading some of the collaborations on the annual Jam Cruise. He’s carved out a niche for himself in a variety of musical circles, and his talent allows him to hold his own in multiple genres. I’m expecting Karl Denson to continue to rotate projects while making some great jazz and funk no matter who he’s playing with.



Dark Star Orchestra announces Jam In The Sand
Dark Star Orchestra will return to Jamaica for their 7th Jam In The Sand event on January 15-19. The band will perform two sets for each of the 4 days. The event will also feature two sets from The Wailers and three from Green Leaf Rustlers.

Waterloo Festival adds to lineup
Austin’s inaugural Waterloo Festival made some additions this week. Oteil & Friends, Leftover Salmon, Perpetual Groove, and Big Something will join The String Cheese Incident, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Railroad Earth, The Motet, TAUK, and many others.

Greensky Bluegrass add dates
Greensky Bluegrass added a new fall tour this week. The band will be on the road from September through November before heading to Mexico for Strings & Sol.

9/15 – Camden, NJ – Outlaw Music Festival
9/16 – Holmdel, NJ – Outlaw Music Festival
9/21 – Denver, CO – The Ogden Theatre
9/22 – Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre %
9/23 – Morrison, CO – Red Rocks Amphitheatre @
9/26 – Omaha, NE – Slowdown *
9/27 – Des Moines, IA – Brenton Skating Plaza *
9/28 – St. Paul, MN – Palace Theatre *
9/29 – Milwaukee, WI – Riverside Theater *
9/30 – Columbia, MO – Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival
10/2 – Fort Wayne, IN – The Clyde Theatre
10/4 – Asheville, NC – Salvage Station
10/5 – Arrington, VA – The Festy Experience
10/6 – Port Chester, NY – The Capitol Theatre
10/7 – Stratton Mountain, VT – Stratton Mountain Resort
10/31 – Portland, OR – Roseland Theatre +
11/1 – Portland, OR – Roseland Theatre +
11/2 – Seattle, WA – The Showbox +
11/3 – Seattle, WA – The Showbox +
11/7 – Crystal Bay, NV – The Crystal Bay Club/Crown Room +
11/8 – San Francisco, CA – Warfield Theatre +
11/9 – San Diego, CA – Observatory North Park +
11/10 – Los Angeles, CA – El Rey Theatre +
11/12 – Phoenix, AZ – The Van Buren +
11/14 – Oklahoma City, OK – The Jones Assembly +
11/15 – Houston, TX – House of Blues +
11/16 – Austin, TX – Stubbs BBQ +
11/17 – Dallas, TX – Granada Theater +
12/7 – 12/11 – Puerto Morelos, Mexico – Strings & Sol

% – with The California Honeydrops
@ – with Turkuaz
– with Ghost Light
+ – with The Lil Smokies

Lettuce announce Wavelength Tour
Lettuce will be rolling out on their Wavelength tour this fall. The band will be on the road through mid-October. They also announced a November date with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.

June 21 – Portland, ME – Let Us Eat VIP Experience at Oxbow
June 22 – Portland, ME – Thompsons Point
June 23 – Lowell, MA – Lowell Summer Series
June 27 – New York, NY – Blue Note
June 28 – New York, NY – Blue Note
June 29 – New York, NY – Blue Note
June 30 – New York, NY – Blue Note
July 1 – New York, NY – Blue Note
July 7 – Quincy, CA – High Sierra Music Festival
July 12 – Scranton, PA – Camp Bisco
July 13 – Lawrenceville, PA – Bay 41
July 28 – La Pine, OR – Newberry Event Music & Arts Festival
August 2 – Thornville, OH – The Werk Out Music Festival
August 3 – Darrington, WA – Summer Meltdown Festival
August 10 – Brevard, NC – Burning Can
August 23 – Arrington, VA – Lockn Music Festival
August 25 – Arrington, VA – Lockn Music Festival
September 20 – Berkeley, CA – UC Theatre
October 2 – Grand Rapids, MI – The Intersection
October 3 – Urbana, IL – The Canopy Club
October 4 – Chicago, IL – The Big Weekend – Concord Music Hall
October 6 – Pittsboro, NC – Shakori Hills
October 7 – Charleston, SC – Music Farm
October 10 – Omaha, NE – Slowdown
October 11 – Kansas City, MI – Crossroads
October 12 – Saint Louis, MI – Atomic Cowboy Pavilion
October 13 – Eureka Springs, AR – Hillbery
November 10 – Denver, CO – Boettcher Concert Hall with The Colorado Symphony


June 7-10
Manchester, TN
Eminem, Muse, The Killers, Bassnectar, The Revivalists, Rebelution, STS9, Mavis Staples, Trombone Shorty, Spafford, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

Blue Ox Music Festival
June 14-16
Eau Claire, WI
Greensky Bluegrass, The Devil Makes Three, Sam Bush, Del McCoury Band, The Infamous Stringdusters, Margo Price, Billy Strings

Mountain Jam
June 15-17
Hunter Mountain, NY
Jack Johnson, Sturgill Simpson, alt-J, The War On Drugs, Portugal. The Man, The Decembrists, George Clinton & Parliament Funkadelic, Rag n’ Bone Man, Turkuaz, The Record Company

Electric Forest Weekend 1
June 21-24
Double JJ Ranch & Resort
Rothbury, MI
The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Chromeo, Xavier Rudd, Andy Frasco & The UN, Aqueous, Big Something, Corey Henry & The Funk Apostles, Everyone Orchestra, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Manic Focus, Shook Twins, The Main Squeeze, The Werks, The Nth Power, Toubab Krewe, Turkuaz

Road Jam
June 22-23
Two Roads Brewing Company
Stratford, CT
Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, The Motet, TAUK

Electric Forest Weekend 2
June 28-July 1
Double JJ Ranch & Resort
Rothbury, MI
The String Cheese Incident, Bassnectar, Chromeo, Xavier Rudd, Aqueous, Big Something, Corey Henry & The Funk Apostles, Everyone Orchestra, Fruition, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, Manic Focus, Shook Twins, The Main Squeeze, The Werks, The Nth Power, Toubab Krewe, Turkuaz

High Sierra
July 5-8
Quincy, CA
String Cheese Incident, Sturgill Simpson, Lettuce, The Wood Brothers, Turkuaz, Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Twiddle, Fruition, Spafford

Camp Bisco
July 12-14
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
The Disco Biscuits, Bassnectar, Excision, Bonobo, The Floozies, Lettuce, TAUK, Lotus, Papadosio

The Ride Festival
July 14-15
Telluride, CO
The String Cheese Incident, Sheryl Crow, Grace Potter, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Big Something

Peach Festival
July 19-22
Montage Mountain
Scranton, PA
Phil Lesh & The Terrapin Family Band, Gov’t Mule, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Dicky Betts, moe., Twiddle, Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Blackberry Smoke, Turkuaz, Leftover Salmon, The Main Squeeze,

Northwest String Summit
July 19-22
Horning’s Hideout
North Plains, OR
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Keller Williams, Fruition, Mandolin Orange, Steep Canyon Rangers

July 25-29
Floyd, VA
Foster the People, The Infamous Stringdusters, Hiss Golden Messenger

Element Music Festival
July 26-29
Snug Lake Ampitheatre
British Columbia
Lotus, Spafford, Particle

Werk Out Festival
August 2-4
Legend Valley
Thornville, OH
The Werks, Umphrey’s McGee, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Lettuce, Papadosio, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Twiddle, Turkuz

Summer Meltdown Festival
August 2-5
Darrington, WA
Bassnectar, Big Gigantic, Greensky Bluegrass, Lettuce, Beats Antique, Papadosio, Twiddle, Pimps of Joytime

August 17-19
Wellston, VA
Dawes, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Larry Keel, Steppin’ In It, Jon Stickney Trio, The Crane Wives

August 23-26
Arrington, VA
Dead & Company, Widespread Panic, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Umphrey’s McGee, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Sheryl Crow, Lettuce, George Clinton & P-Funk, Blues Traveler, Matisyahu, Spafford, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong

Waterloo Festival
September 7-9
Carson Creek Ranch
Austin, TX
The String Cheese Incident (3 nights), Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, Otiel & Friends, Railroad Earth, Leftover Salmon, The Motet, Boombox, TAUK, Marco Benevento

FreshGrass Festival
September 14-16
North Adams, MA
Trampled By Turtles, Yonder Mountain String Band, Indigo Girls, Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder, Steep Canyon Rangers

The Festy Experience
October 5-7
Arrington, VA
Greensky Bluegrass, Gillian Welch, Railroad Earth, Sam Bush Band, Della Mae, Fruition, Carbon Leaf, Bonnie Paine

Hillberry Music Festival
October 11-14
Railroad Earth, Trampled By Turtles, Sam Bush, Lettuce, The Wood Brothers, The Infamous Stringdusters, Billy Strings, Split Lip Rayfield

Suwannee Hulaween
October 25-28
Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park
Live Oak, FL
The String Cheese Incident, Jamiroquai, Odesza, The Revivalists, STS9, Lettuce, Trampled by Turtles, Medeski, Martin, & Wood, Galactic, Turkuaz, The Wood Brothers, Yonder Mountain String Band, Joe Russo’s Almost Dead

Strings & Sol
December 7-11
Puerto Morelos, MX
Yonder Mountain String Band, Greensky Bluegrass, Railroad Earth, The Infamous Stringdusters, Leftover Salmon

December 12-16
Puerto Morelos, MX
The Disco Biscuits, STS9, Umphrey’s McGee, Lotus, Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, Ghost Light

Winter Wondergrass Vermont
December 14-16
Stratton, VT

Tropical Throe.down
January 10-14
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
moe., The New Mastersounds, Big Something

Jam in the Sand
January 15-19
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
Dark Star Orchestra, The Wailers, Green Leaf Rustlers

International Incident
January 25-28
Runaway Bay, Jamaica
The String Cheese Incident, Keller Williams

Winter Wondergrass Colorado
February 22-24
Steamboat Springs, CO

Winter Wondergrass California
March 29-31
Squaw Valley, CA


Thanks again for stopping by. I’ll be back next week with more jam. Until then, check me out on Facebook and Twitter for up to the minute concert announcements. Until next week, Jam On!