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Vince Redhouse Jazzes Up the Native American Flute - 2004-03-14

Vince Redhouse is an Arizona-based musician, one of six musical siblings in the Redhouse clan. His instrument of choice is the traditional Native American flute... but, in his hands, it has anything but a traditional sound, whether he's playing jazz, Mozart or a Christian spiritual.

Many musicians talk about the spiritual side of their music, but for Navajo flute player Vince Redhouse, the religious connection is more direct. He put his music career on hold for 10 years to work as an evangelical preacher.

"Basically, I denied the music ability that I had during that whole process of time," he says. "So I resigned that and I got out of that, but still I realized that something was happening to me when I was in that environment, which was really unique and that I felt was very powerful for me. And so I haven't strayed far from that, I still play in churches and the songs that we play on the albums are from some of those services."

With his high cheekbones and long, dark brown hair flowing down his shoulders, there's no mistaking Vince Redhouse's Native American lineage. His Christian music is filtered through this heritage. As a young boy in California, he and his five brothers and sisters were in a performing troupe, organized by his father.

"My dad being who he was, first generation from the reservation, he wanted to instill in us that Indian heritage and culture," Mr. Redhouse says. "Well, what he did to do that was he created a dance group and we were the performers."

Vince Redhouse took a long path to the native flute. He picked it up about five years ago, in his forties. By then, he'd learned to play a host of instruments, starting with a different sort of flute.

"I think it was seven years old when I first started playing the little recorders or tonettes that they give in elementary school, which leads to clarinet and then the saxophone," he says. "So I started playing clarinet and then I wanted to play saxophone right away and they said no, you can't, unless you play clarinet. And then about a year after I started playing the clarinet, I was introduced to piano lessons and then the Beatles hit and I started playing guitar like nobody's business. I mean I would practice literally until my fingers were bleeding."

He still plays guitar as well as saxophone, which he uses on many songs. It gives his music a smooth jazz sound.

Guitarist Abraham Marcor, who has worked with Vince Redhouse, says you can hear echoes of the saxophone in unexpected places.

"I think his playing is very spiritual like he has mentioned, I think he probably has different options with the saxophone so he goes in different directions," he says. "But I could hear some of the licks that he does in the Native American flute that I think are influenced by the saxophone."

The Native American flute traditionally plays one octave in one key. But Vince Redhouse claims he can play any chromatic scale on a single native flute.

"Most Native flute players carry 12 flutes, one flute for every key in the chromatic scale," he says. "I can play every key on one flute, in this six-hole configuration [he plays a scale]. In the western scale, there's twelve notes, not six. So I can play the chromatics [he does], and if you can do that on any instrument, you can play in any key. That was the Rosetta Stone for this - being able to configure the chromatic scale on this."

Vince Redhouse says he's on a mission for Native American music.

"This is an instrument that connects me with my culture," he says. "My culture's not known for being musical to the level of the world's standard. So what I've done is I've chosen that instrument to bring attention to the Native people and raise the level of musicianship to world class level. "

The latest CD from Vince Redhouse is Go Unto Every Nation, on Soar records.