Saxophonist Karl Denson visits New Orleans every year during Jazz Fest. The tradition began two decades ago with his acid-jazz-funk band, the Greyboy Allstars. This year the Greyboy Allstars and Denson’s hard-hitting jam-funk-rock band, Tiny Universe, are both playing evening shows after the Jazz Fest gates close.
Denson’s other claims to fame include playing sax with the Rolling Stones, a gig his four years in the studio and on tour with Lenny Kravitz opened the door to. His post-Kravitz career also includes solo jazz albums, Tiny Universe performances of the Stones’ Sticky Fingers album on tour and playing sax for San Diego rock-reggae band Slightly Stoopid.
How did your annual Jazz Fest–timed visits to New Orleans begin?
My manager connected us with the whole New Orleans thing. We were getting in line with the jam band scene and all the other things that allow you to go out and play music. New Orleans was a natural fit. Our manager put us in that late-night slot, where we didn’t have to get any sponsorship. We agreed to play in the middle of the night and it worked out.
Do you have a favorite New Orleans musician at the moment?
I’m really into James Booker lately. I watched that documentary (Bayou Maharajah) about him on Netflix. Now I pretty much go to bed with James Booker every night.
You and Tiny Universe began performing your Allman Brothers Band tribute, Eat a Bunch of Peaches, last year. Did you work with the Allman Brothers Band?
In the early 2000s, we did a summer tour with them. It was amazing. They’re one of those bands that I go in and out of listening to, but every time I come back to them, I’m like, ‘Wow, why don’t I listen to them more?’ Eat a Bunch of Peaches is a chance to do their great songs.
You toured Europe with the Rolling Stones last fall. You’ll be out with them again this spring and summer. Obviously, they see you as a worthy replacement for the late Bobby Keys, who performed with them for decades and played the famous sax solo for “Brown Sugar.”
It’s a good fit. I was a big Bobby Keys fan. It wasn’t a strain to step in and play that stuff with authenticity. The Lenny Kravitz connection was key there. Lenny and Mick are good friends. That’s how I got the inside track.
How do like working with the Rolling Stones?
I can’t complain. And I get to hang out with Keith and Mick. I’m blessed.
SATURDAY, APRIL 28—HOUSE OF BLUES
SATURDAY, MAY 5—THE JOY THEATER