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Talking Shop with Karl Denson

By Vanessa Krystin Wong

Having just completed a tour of Australia and New Zealand as saxophonist in The Rolling Stones, San Diego-based funk-rock icon Karl Denson gets back to it with his band Tiny Universe and special guest MCs Vokab Kompany to present Run DMC Remixed. This whole new jazz adventure reinvents hits from the groundbreaking rappers like It’s Tricky, My Adidas and King of Rock. Denson sits down to us to discuss his forthcoming tour and jazz in youths.

So Karl, this tour with the Tiny Universe is paying tribute to hip-hop legends Run-DMC, and you’re bringing Vokab Kompany along as well. How did you link up with them on this collaboration?
Well Dave our keyboard player has been writing with Vocab for several years now and did most of the music for their last record. We had a few different choices of who to use but thought the amount of work involved would take a really dedicated pair of MC’s. Vocab fit the bill on that level as well as our friendship with them. As we expected, they came for the first rehearsal well prepared, which made the process much easier.

Do you have a certain approach to “remixing” the songs for this tour?
In most cases we kind of started with the original track that the sample came from and build out from there.

Do you have a favorite Run-DMC song to perform live?
Even though I don’t actually play saxophone on this track, It’s Tricky is definitely my favorite. It reminds me of the movie “Road Trip” and makes me want to just jump around and dance like I’m in a fraternity.

Towards the end of last year, you went on tour with the Rolling Stones through Australia and New Zealand. How was that experience?
It was pretty much everything you would expect from a Rolling Stones tour; very plush. And every night you get to hear a Rolling Stones concert.

How did you develop your broad taste in music?
I had a lot of different styles of really great music around my house as a kid and continued to seek out new stuff in my desire to be a good writer,  I made a point to try to listen to everything and find out what really good music was.

Do you see yourself as a point of entry into jazz? Do you believe it’s important for younger audiences to listen to jazz at all?
Hopefully I’m a point of entry for some people. I definitely hope that younger audiences develop a taste for jazz. I was thinking that same thing recently on the ski trip with my kids and I was listening to some Freddie Hubbard and thought to myself, “Gee! I hope these guys someday know what it feels like to listen to good swing.”

Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe performs live at VENUE on February 18th.

By Miles Wong

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