20Q: Catching up with Native American/traditional flutist Al Jewer


Angela Major

Editor's Note: Kicks presents 20Q, a feature that introduces readers to people involved in the area's arts and entertainment community. Compiled by kicks Editor Greg Little, each piece includes a short bio, photo and answers to questions that provide insight into not only that person's artistic interests but also his or her personality.

Al Jewer

A respected record producer, engineer, artist, composer and flute player, Al Jewer has spent the past 30 years as a studio musician working in all genres of music including classical, folk, jazz, Celtic, reggae, rock and more.

The Fort Atkinson man began playing flute in 1971, but it wasn't until 1986 that he discovered his true musical voice—the Native American flute. Jewer has been principal alto flute with the Whitewater Flute Choir for the past 18 years and plays classical duets as a member of the Soverhill Duo and quartets with the Whitewater String Quartet.

Jewer founded Laughing Cat Studio in 1984 as a vehicle to record and produce music by such artists as David Storei and Roxanne Neat, Natty Nation, Weekend Wages and others. Since then, he has performed with Native-influenced artist Blackhawk and Christine Ibach, a Wisconsin traditional Native flute player of Cree heritage.

In 1994, he started Laughing Cat Records, and in 1995 he spent eight months creating “Prairie Plain Song,” his personal statement of peace and harmony with nature.

In 2003, Jewer worked with Andy Mitran on a duet CD, “Two Trees,” and in 2005 released his second solo album, “River Crossing.”

Along with Native American flute, Jewer also plays such instruments as classical flute, electronic woodwind, piano, synthesizer and bass guitar.

To learn more, visit lafcat.com or search for Al Jewer on cdbaby.com and YouTube.

1. What initially drew you to the flute? I always wanted to play the flute, but I was denied in fourth grade because I was told, “Flute is a girl's instrument.” I was allowed to take clarinet, which served me well and got me a scholarship to Interlochen Arts Academy (in Interlochen, Michigan). Once there, I promptly switched to flute, and I had a wonderful teacher.

2. Describe Native American flute. Native American flute is an ancient instrument that dates back at least 4,000 years (based on carbon-dated instruments found in a cave in Taos, New Mexico). The Native American flute is a double-chambered instrument (meaning it has an upper resonant chamber and a lower “played” chamber). This gives the instrument a unique sound. The instruments don't have a “standard” as the classical flute does, which means the scale, the number of holes and the tuning are up to the maker.

3. If you won the lottery, what is the first thing you would do? Get a good lawyer.

4. What are the key differences between Native American flute and silver flute? One “key” difference is that the silver flute has them; the Native American flute does not. Also, the silver flute is a diatonic instrument, which means it will play all the notes of the scale. This is not true for the Native American flute, which has a scale that skips some notes in favor of defining a particular scale or sound. Also, the Native American flute is usually made from wood.

5. Do you have a connection to Native American culture, or did you just fall in love with the instrument? Both. There is Native American heritage on my dad's side, but he never really talked about it. I discovered the instrument in 1986, and I immediately fell in love with it.

6. If you could have any feature from an animal, what would it be? To relax and sleep like my cats.

7. What would you consider the high point of your musical career? Playing for the opening of the fourth annual World Peace Summit in Rome, Italy.

8. You have performed a rather diverse catalog of music. Do you have a particular style you most enjoy? Yes. I have performed everything from ambient soundscapes to heavy metal and beyond. It's about 40 different genres and counting. I really enjoy the ambient and world music collaborations I do with my co-composer friend Andy Mitran. We just received another nomination for our last CD, “Surrounding Sky,” for best ambient CD of 2015. We're also just releasing our next CD, “Transmigration,” which is a collection of 14 cuts that are all collaborations with other artists.

9. As a record producer, do you work only on your music, or do you collaborate with others? I work mostly on my music because it keeps me really busy. I have produced other artists, but I don't really have the time anymore.

10. People would be surprised to know: I am also a computer programming consultant to the medical diagnostic industry.

11. If you could perform any place in the world, where would it be? On the International Space Station.

12. Are there different styles of Native American flute? Are some different sizes, or are they made from different materials? Yes, yes and yes. I have instruments with everything from four to seven holes, double flutes, triple flutes, great big 5-foot-long flutes, teeny 5-inch flutes and more. They are made from almost every hardwood you can name, I also have an Aztec flute made from clay.

13. Does Native American flute have a strong following? Definitely. It is becoming more popular by the day.

14. Who or what are your musical inspirations? There's a lot: Weather Report, Frank Zappa, Stravinsky, Bach, Snarky Puppy, Miriam Stockley, King Crimson, Bob Marley, Georg Philipp Telemann, Thelonious Monk, Herbie Hancock, Steely Dan, Imogen Heap, Jan Garbarek, Ian Anderson (Jethro Tull), Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, The Beatles, Keith Jarrett, Karl Jenkins, Robert Fripp, Lyonel Bauchet, Miles Davis, Nine Inch Nails, Thomas Tallis, Pink Floyd, The Police, Rage Against The Machine, Handel, Beethoven, The Ramones, Nelson Riddle, Seal, Charlie Parker, Talking Heads, Tom Waits, UB40, Johnny Clegg and many more.

15. Name the one item you own that you could not live without. My silver alto flute. It is my best voice.

16. If Native American flute were used in a popular mainstream song, would you consider it great exposure for the instrument or a cultural faux pas? It's already used in popular music. It's great to bring that voice to any music where it fits.

17. What do the designs and markings on Native American flutes symbolize? Most notably, the four holes at the base of the flute represent the four directions. Every flute has markings or carvings, which have significance.

18. Where do you get the flutes you use to perform? From powwows, Native American flute gatherings, directly from the makers or from other players.

19. Can you name a popular television show you either have never seen an episode of or that you don't understand why it is popular? There's too many to list. All “reality” shows would fall into that category, as well as game shows.

20. Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians? Be prepared to work really hard and be extremely organized for lots of years before seeing any success. Also, practice, practice, practice, and be prepared to promote your music. It's no use to make great art if nobody knows about it.

Know someone involved in the local arts/entertainment community you think would be a great subject for 20Q? Email kicks Editor Greg Little at glittle@gazettextra.com.

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