Leading the scene

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Karl Denson is who so many musicians are trying to be. He's been on the scene for more than two decades, making a name for himself as tenor sax for Lenny Kravitz, then co-founding the Greyboy Allstars.

These days, he's the bandleader of Karl Denson's Tiny Universe, and there isn't a musician on the jazz/funk/jam scene who doesn't drop his name if he or she has so much as taken a breath in the same room as Denson.

Denson has brought a fresh face to jazz, collaborating with other jazz shapers including Medeski, Martin and Wood's bass player, Chris Wood.

Denson pulls influences from Motown, funk and soul to mix with a traditional jazz sound, making it danceable and accessible to a younger audience.

"My concept of jazz is that it started as dance music in the speakeasies and in New Orleans and Kansas City," Denson said. "I'm trying to connect those dots historically."

Many of the bands who have come through Steamboat Springs cite Denson as a mentor or an influence in interviews.

"We're totally into the younger bands," Denson said. "Especially if it's somebody we like, and they're doing the right thing -- working hard at their craft, not just working hard at having a great time."

As Denson was coming up in the ranks, he looked up to musicians such as Prince and Herbie Hancock, he said. "I look up to all the people who are able to make the shift in time. When life changes, music changes, society changes, they change with it."

Denson's last major release was "The Bridge," which came out in 2002.

He is at work on a new album and has recorded a more traditional jazz album as a duo with Wood. No release date has been set for the duo album.

This will be Denson's first time in Steamboat for years. He's looking forward to seeing some old friends and eating a Winona's cinnamon roll, he said.

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