•The Daniel Island Stage
"A lot of people equate jazz with swing," says bandleader Karl Denson, speaking about the current state of jazz and improvisational music in the country. "But to me, it goes way deeper than that. It had little to do with academia and more to do with people moving their asses. It was about people dancing and having fun."
Dancing, fun times, positive vibes, and musical expression are at the heart of what the virtuosic tenor saxophonist and woodwind player is all about. Those sentiments have guided the San Diego-based musician through several band projects, including his latest effort, K3: The Karl Denson Trio, who make their Carolina debut at Chazzfest's Daniel Island Stage.
"To me, jazz is the black influence on American music," Denson says. "That part continues to modulate all the time. I don't think there's been any decrease in interest or in vitality. Most people expect it to come from the jazz community, but I hear just as much good jazz coming from the jam band community."
In the mid-'90s, Denson toured and recorded with Lenny Kravitz and collaborated with DJ Greyboy in the Greyboy Allstars. By the late-'90s, the Allstars were busy playing a mix of boogaloo, funk, and modern jazz. After they disbanded in 1998, Denson reloaded with a new progressive group called Tiny Universe. They also become a formidable force on the jam band circuit scene.
"I'm an old-school jazz guy who's been playing jazz festivals for 10 years, but I think what's going on in the jam band scene and at the jam band festivals is more vital to jazz than the events where it's just a bunch of smooth jazz," says Denson.
Earlier this year, the saxophonist stepped away from his larger ensembles and formed a trio with organist Anthony Smith (of Global Funk Council) and San Diego session drummer Brett Sanders.
"I wanted to do something jazzy," Denson says. "I initially thought the trio thing would be bass, drums, and sax, but then I thought that might be too restrictive. So I came up with the idea of an organ trio, with organ, drums, and sax. It's very different from the other bands. It's funky in places, it swings a bit, and it's way looser in a lot of ways. It's really a blast." –T. Ballard Lesemann