To work with Allan was a dream of mine. The first time I saw him play was in New York, with the New Tony Williams Lifetime. Fatefully, I ended up a short time later in a band that opened for the New Tony Williams Lifetime, and met keyboardist Alan Pasqua, which led to meeting and later working with Allan.
He was unworldly and magical. He possessed a one-of-a-kind voice as a composer and musician. He was a musician’s musician. He was a visionary who was also unselfish, painfully humble and deeply soulful. He was an inventor with a distinctive, iconic and extraordinarily interesting, complex personality.
With an infectious laugh and an intellectually hilarious sense of humor, he gave us joy, emotional healing and a sanctuary for our deepest emotion through his music. Here are sentiments from five accomplished musicians who are very important to Allan’s legacy.
Alan Pasqua, keyboardist: “The first time I met Allan was when Tony Williams opened the front door of his Harlem brownstone back in 1975. Tony had invited me to come down to NYC from Boston, right after we were involved in a George Russell performance of ‘Living Time’ at Carnegie Hall. Tony was in the beginning stages of putting together the New Tony Williams Lifetime. Allan was quite shy, except when he strapped on his white Gibson SG. Something else would happen then; he would immediately transcend into a world of genius. So humble, with so much heart.”
Jimmy Johnson, bassist: “Allan Holdsworth reinvented the guitar and changed music as we know it. This is an extremely rare occurrence. John Coltrane, Tony Williams and Jaco Pastorius are examples of this. Most musicians’ voices are the sum of their early influences. With these players mentioned above, you can’t hear any history, and you can’t tell who they listened to. It’s as if they came from another planet and mastered their instruments without hearing anybody before them.”
Chad Wackerman, drummer: “It’s impossible to talk about Allan in a short paragraph. Volumes could easily be written. I started working with Allan Holdsworth in 1982. He believed in his convictions and could be uncompromising. I have never met anyone who placed such great demands on themselves in the interest of advancing their playing and creating fresh ideas for every solo. He was demanding on himself, yet he always complimented his bandmates. The world has lost the heaviest musician I’ve ever known.”
Gary Husband, drummer: “Allan Holdsworth, my brother, the beautiful yet tormented and tragic genius, left us almost a year ago. In our very first experience playing together, in 1978, we simply improvised for many hours. The whole connection between us that day was so effortless, so extraordinary, that I remember feeling overwhelmingly blessed that someone could liberate me so powerfully. If I were asked to quote one piece of philosophy that might sum up all I got from him, it would have to be that every single note matters.”
Virgil Donati, drummer: “Playing with Allan Holdsworth was all about improvisation and spontaneity. He was the best bandleader one could ever hope for. He placed all his faith in your playing. Everyone was able to bring their talents and interpretations to the table.”
In closing, I have to add that this is just a thumbnail tribute to the man, his music and his craft. My hopes are that this tribute reaches all who are interested in perpetuating his spirit. Future generations in search of inspiration will find it in Allan Holdsworth’s music—a key to their ultimate progression as musicians and composers. I am forever grateful.