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Alvas Showroom: The Art of Listening


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The Alvas Showroom is a musician's dream come true. Great sound and an awesome staff. It's a true privilege and joy to play here.
—Jim Stubblefield
Allan Holdsworth was a giant, a genius, a gifted guitarist who had a great gauge for sound. An upper level musician can become less than that playing in a room, club, or hall that is beneath the caliber of their artistry. Holdsworth played the intimate and superbly sound engineered Alvas Showroom in San Pedro, CA many times. The coastal town of San Pedro can be found some thirty-five miles southwest of Los Angeles. The uniquely conceived Alvas Showroom is a listening room. A place where both the artist and the listeners can come together and experience the complete and uninterrupted depths of music. Holdsworth, who we will talk more about later, was one of many distinguished artists that truly appreciated this room and understood its importance in the presentation and immersion of music.

As a concert venue, Alvas opened with a bang in 2005. A band led by trombonist Mike Barone (perhaps best known for composing music for the Tonight Show starring Johnny Carson) featured a lineup of all-stars, including saxophonist Ernie Watts. They inaugurated the room in explosive fashion. It was dynamic in a room that holds about ninety people. The mighty impact and enthusiasm of that show set the bar and created the vibe that has carried on throughout the room's history. Alas, the history of the Alvas Showroom predates this show by well over half a century. It would seem to reason that this most interesting back story would best be told by longtime owner Matt Lincir. So, my wife and I set sail for San Pedro to get the story first-hand. The welcoming and engaging Lincir went one better. He had several great stories to tell. Some made us laugh. Some were time capsules of another era. Some were heartwarming. Some were thought provoking. All were interesting.

On a warm sunny morning we pulled up in front of the Alvas Showroom, which is flanked by other Alvas entities. It didn't come as a surprise then, when Lincir turned out to be a savvy businessman. A fine guitarist in his own right, he has successfully merged his enormous passion for music with his business acumen. One example of that is Alvas Music, right next door to the showroom. Lined with a bevy of beautiful guitars, it is one of the finer, high-end, and immaculate musical instrument stores you will come across.

"My parents opened the Alvas Showroom as a dance school in 1952," Lincir stated, "they were a professional dance team that were in many movies back in the day." Indeed, Rosalie and Alva Lincir were in a host of movies. Many of which, not surprisingly, were musicals. Step Lively with George Murphy and Frank Sinatra, International Squadron starring Ronald Reagan, My Sister Eileen with Jack Lemmon, Janet Leigh, and Betty Garrett, They All Kissed the Bride with Joan Crawford and Melvyn Douglas, just to name a few. Despite coming from way different parts of the world, Rosalie and Alva became a couple, both in wedlock and as a dance team. "My dad came from the island of Vis in Croatia. Hard times led to him going to Chile, where there were relatives, and later he earned his degree in mechanical engineering. When he came to the states, he came to San Pedro to work in the fishing industry. He soon learned that it paid better to lift women than to lift big tuna." We had a good laugh at that remark. Indeed, the movie industry paid a lot better to a man that could fit the bill. "Dad was dashing, good looking, and clever. He was athletic and the right height they were looking for, so he became successful even though he had no prior dance experience."

"Mom came from Booneville, Missouri and always loved to dance. She got good at it quickly and was getting paid by the time she was fifteen years old. When they moved out to Hollywood, she attended Hollywood Professionals School (instead of a public high school) with many celebrities, including Donald O'Connor and Mickey Rooney. She got into show business and that is where my parents met and fell in love." Lincir then made us laugh out loud again with, "Mom was the better dancer, but Dad looked good in tights."

Opening the dance school eventually led to other successful businesses, and of course, ultimately to the listening room. "Dad was not into spending money. They used to have coffee cans with flood lights. Now we have top of the line lighting and sound systems. Adjustable acoustics that, for example, can provide more dampening for a loud band or more reverberation for a piano or violin." They also have two impressive house pianos that distinguish the room aesthetically as well as musically. Both Steinways, a 1921 America B and a 1985 Hamburg C.

Guitar virtuoso Scott Henderson is also among the elite guitarists that respect the sanctity of the Alvas. Englishman Guthrie Govan is another. Able to play larger venues with his successful power trio, The Aristocrats, Govan still lists Alvas high amongst his preferred venues. There are many more, "but there is no money to be made in listening rooms," states Lincir. "It is all about passion for the music and respect for the artists. I never tell any artist what to do here. I learned from my parents long ago that the artist is everything. There is nothing wrong with selling steaks and martinis. There is nothing wrong with making money. But when they interfere with the artistry, that is when I have to stand up. Don't mess with the purity and the beauty these artists have achieved." There is none of that to get in the way at the Alvas Showroom. There is no alcohol sold or permitted. There is no food being served. Consequently, there is none of the noise of whirling blenders, clinking glasses, people placing orders, or anything of that nature. You are welcome to bring in your own food and beverage (nonalcoholic). There is but one sound to hear. Music. In a room with such acoustics and a state-of-the-art sound system it would seem to miss the point to want to dull your senses with alcohol anyway.

Allan Holdsworth, take two. "About a month before Allan died," Lincir began, "I was trying to book him a room and everything that was moderately priced was already booked. Allan told me that he really didn't have any money anyway. So, we set him up in the showroom. I went home and got some sheets and pillows and stuff. He absolutely loved it. Said he slept like a baby. He was all alone, which is what he liked. He didn't want to have to go through the process of checking into a hotel and having to talk to people and all that." One more take on Holdsworth in just a bit.

First, a brief summary of a very profitable Alvas entity from back in the day that needs to be mentioned in order to digest the next round of Lincir's robust humor. The early success of the dance school led to the business of selling dancewear. This goes back well before the internet. Even before Spandex! Danskin leotards and tights were being sold by the truckload. Yes, this was a different time, and business was booming.

Meanwhile, Lincir, the aspiring guitarist, had other ideas. He attended Harbor College on a classical guitar scholarship, where he later found the sophistication of jazz and its more challenging aspects to his liking. He wrote, arranged, and played music for the jazz band. "I was all set for my big debut with two sets of material," reminisced Lincir, "Matt Lincir Solo Guitar was booked at Polliwog Park in Manhattan Beach. The week before, a punk band that you might recall by the name of Black Flag played there." After nodding that we did indeed remember that band, Lincir animatedly continued with, "They destroyed the park! The mayor had to come down. They ended up canceling the series of shows. So, I said screw this music shit, I'm selling leotards for my dad!"

"As for the listening room," Lincir redirected, "It's a love thing and I still get starstruck sometimes. Ignacio Berroa called, and I got starstruck. I had to stop and say, 'Hey, wait a minute, you're the guy that Dizzy Gillespie said that brought the Cuban music to American jazz.' He just calmly said, "Oh yeah, that's me. I hear you have a nice place." "I nearly dropped the phone. That gig ended up being so memorable. He had the great bassist Carlitos del Puerto. Ben Wendel was on sax. And from the mountains of Armenia pianist Tigran Hamasyan. The soundcheck alone was amazing. Tigran was trying a little too hard to sound like Chucho Valdes or Otmaro Ruiz. Berroa stopped and said 'too much, I want you two (including Wendell) to play straight jazz. We will play the Cuban stuff.' It became the perfect blending of sounds."

Veteran, experienced, well-known artists frequent the Alvas Showroom, but it is also a haven for the up and coming or underappreciated. "We like to think of ourselves as talent scouts," Lincir asserted. "We regularly frequent places like The Mint in Los Angeles. I hope you are hip to that because it is the best thing going on the jazz scene. They have some young artists that will just blow you away. Recently, I was at a show where if I didn't know better, I would think that I was listening to Miles Davis and Charlie Parker. They are out there, and we love discovering them."

I did promise Allan Holdsworth, take three. Trust me, this one is worth the wait. Lincir was proud and sincere to tell us about rare footage of Holdsworth to soon be released. "One night that Allan played here we videoed and recorded the show. He agreed to it with one stipulation. He didn't want to see it. We have respected those wishes and to date no one has seen it. It is locked up in the vault. I have spoken with his daughters and they have agreed that their dad would want it to be seen. So, soon there will be an Allan Holdsworth Live at the Alvas Showroom DVD. I refuse to profit from it. I will only reimburse the cost of having copies made. Everything else will go to Allan's family. That's what Allan would have wanted. My final words on Allan Holdsworth are that with what I know about music theory, he will go down as one of the most advanced musicians of our era."

Set up like a small amphitheater, the inviting room has a variant of comfortable seating. The intimacy between, or perhaps amongst, the artists and the audience is more than just part of the room's charm. It enlists a powerful connection with the artists and allows you to be blissfully engulfed into their music. This night the genre defying Incendio lit up the stage. With eleven albums to their credit, including the recently released Summoning the Muse (Incendio Music, 2019), Incendio continues their highly successful and richly framed fusion of world music, jazz, rock, flamenco, Celtic, classical and more. The band consists of guitarist Jim Stubblefield, guitarist JP Durand, bassist Liza Carbe, and drummer Tim Curle. With Stubblefield, if you close your eyes you will swear you are listening to Al Di Meola with just a dash of Carlos Santana. Durand is equally accomplished with a versatility that ranges from Jimi Hendrix to Paco de Lucia. Yes, there are two leads and they are both scintillating axe wielders. Carbe is no ordinary bassist. She was trained as a classical guitarist. Consequently, she adds a kaleidoscope of flavors and nuances within her often bold and rich bass lines. Curle drives this complex and enlightened ensemble with his diverse percussion mastery and boundless energy. This fiery band has gained a reputation of putting on intensely powerful live performances. Indeed, we knew what to expect as this was far from our first rodeo with Incendio. Alas, this created the perfect scenario to put the Alvas Showroom under the microscope. Just how good or different were they going to sound in THIS room? It is hardly insightful to say that the room matters. It is however at the very least exciting to hear and experience just how much it can matter. I would fall short of outlining this phenomenon with some sort of techy jargon. It will have to suffice to say, WOW! Ninety minutes seem to blow by in an instant, as this stunning show came to a conclusion. The audience that had remained completely silent, in true listening room fashion, now erupted in exhilaration and appreciation.

After the show, Carbe stated that, "The room just has such a wonderful sound and ambiance to it." Sound engineer Art Valdez has much to do with that, as Carbe continued, "Art has such a great ear and is such a pleasure to work with." Durand expanded on that, adding, "The Alvas has a nice and totally pro staff. Many great bands play here. There is much to recommend, but it's the sound. It's almost like anti-cathedral. The sound is very crisp, very dry, so it's very true. There is no masking a bad tone. The sound can be controlled. We can be raging at a decent volume on stage but that does not translate to ear-splitting volumes for the audience. The acoustics are excellent for a band. Art Valdez seriously knows this room and how a band should sound there." Curle's continued vibrance and energy after the show spoke in volumes more than words could articulate. "The Alvas Showroom is a musician's dream come true," observed Stubblefield, "Great sound, great location, and an awesome staff. A true privilege and joy to perform here."

From its inception, Matt Lincir's parents, Rosalie and Alva, put their heart and soul into the creative foundation of the Alvas Showroom. Lincir has proudly carried the torch into the next century and is forward thinking. "The essence of what I want to do before I die," stated an energized and sincerely focused Lincir, "is to educate people as to what is actually great music, and just what it is that makes a person a great artist. To educate as to how to understand listening to it and appreciating it. There needs to be an education. We need a vehicle to promote the education. Sure, there are going to be people who don't have the capacity or the desire. Still, we need an opportunity to talk about why it's cool, and to take them by the hand and lead them to it. It needs to hit the critical masses and be cool. People go see Mott the Hoople because they have been told to go. Promoters are able to whip things up. People are told to go because it is cool. A vehicle to start this education and to list all the truly good gigs, regardless of genre, is being created. It's important to emphasize that it is NOT genre specific. It is about high-level of artistry. If you want to go see something, we will have the listings of what are actually high-end gigs. High level gigs will be the filter. I have several great musicians who are on board with this project and want to be part of it. The technology is there, the website is in the making, and is going to be amazing. I really think that it will spread very quickly and will soon be like, what do you mean you're not on the site, everybody is!"

Past, present, and future, the Alvas Showroom is an earnest representation of what the true fiber, passion, and integrity of live music is all about.

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