Jack Alves knows how to open a show. He ought to, since the Scottsdale-based guitarist has been billed with everyone from Tracy Chapman to Willie Nelson to John Fahey.
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At the Higley Center for the Arts, where Alves plays Thursday, he'll be the lone attraction, closing out the center's six-month Acoustic Music Series.
The series, which takes two months off before starting anew in August, has billed everyone from vets like Alves to a Higley High School student, says organizer Robert Zucker.
"We've had all kinds of acts playing and we've gotten all sorts of crowds," says Zucker.
Zucker is especially excited about Alves: "He's a real veteran of the local music scene, he's played with everyone."
Born on Long Island, N.Y., before moving to Phoenix at age 17, Alves spent 20 years as a go-to opening act in the Valley. Alves, 57, is mostly retired from opening, and makes his living teaching guitar lessons now. Along with chords, he teaches students about the music business.
"I approach my work as a craftsman," he says. "I don't think I'm an artist. If I was an artist I wouldn't do half of what I've done."
That means playing outdoors in the July sun, corporate events - wherever he got a paying gig.
Along the way, he learned skills like how to pace a show to pump up liquor sales (it's all about pacing), play through a little feedback in his monitor (just ignore it unless it's so bad you have to make a joke about it) and be just good enough to keep the crowd happy without stealing the show (no one likes an opener who upstages the headliner).
Music is a business, he says, and you've got to be professional since team players go the farthest. Alves, following his rules for openers, is proof, he says.
"I started at the Celebrity Theatre as an usher," he says. Before long, he was playing on that stage. "That's as close to an American success story as you can get."
With a little work, those who attend Alves' show could find themselves on stage sometime after August, says Zucker. Already, a Higley High School student was invited to headline after he shined during the event's post-show open mike night.
"We're always looking for people to play, so long as they're acoustic," says Zucker. "That doesn't mean you're not allowed to have an electric keyboard, but if you show up with a Stratocaster, we'll probably say 'sorry.' "