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."