“Start the magic,” were the three words El Gaucho owner Paul Mackay would say to cue pianist Daniel Davison to play when the restaurant doors were about to open for the night. Paul’s vision for El Gaucho’s “dinner as theater” concept clearly meant that ambiance was a key ingredient to the meal, and setting the tone meant live music: so much so that the third employee hired – only after himself and Executive Chef Ken Sharp – was pianist Daniel Davison. That was December 1996, and Daniel still plays Tuesday through Saturday every week at El Gaucho Seattle.
Daniel says he never had the “What am I going to do?” question in his head. His father listened to great jazz and he was greatly influenced by 50s and 60s jazz artists like Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, and Chick Corea. He formed his first band at 15 years old in Toppenish, Washington, where he grew up. His parents would drive him to his gigs in the late 60s; the 70s included playing in Central Washington University’s jazz band, and following college, a myriad of rock, jazz-fusion, and hotel bands followed. During the 80s he found “mild” success and a lot of travel, but as Journey’s song, “Faithfully” says, “…the road ain’t no place to start a family,” and the same was true for Daniel – the travel was taking its toll.
He entered the wine business, but still managed to perform on the side. He played a gig for a wine shop’s grand opening, (“for a bottle of Leonetti and a cigar”), and, through mutual friends, learned about Paul opening El Gaucho Seattle. Paul and Daniel were introduced, but El Gaucho was still yet to open. Later that year, Daniel happened to be walking by the old Seamen’s Union Hall on 1st and Wall – the eventual home to El Gaucho Seattle. He meandered in and left a note for Paul on his desk, “If you’re still looking for a musician, call me.” Two weeks later, he auditioned for Paul and Ken. As they say, the rest is history.
Since opening night, Daniel has played to thousands of people, including an impressively long list of celebrities. “This room has seen it all.” He recalls, “One night a guy came in and tipped me $200. Four days later he was arrested as the biggest con man to hit Seattle, according to The Seattle Times. I guess I was the only winner in that scenario,” he chides.
When he’s not entertaining our guests, Daniel enjoys family time with his wife, Lisa (they’re celebrating their 25th wedding anniversary in November), and three daughters: Caitlynd Jean, a junior at Seattle U, Sara Dakota, a “precocious” 18-year-old and junior at WSU, and Jessica, a sophomore at Kent Meridian, who, he notes, has never known him in any other job. In fact, Paul recalls a few times the girls coming down to El Gaucho after school and doing their homework while Daniel set-up for the night.
Above the El Gaucho Seattle grand piano where he plays, hangs a painting of Daniel himself. It’s the same artist Paul commissioned to adorn the restaurant walls with scenes depicting it in action. Daniel commissioned it personally and used it for the cover for his first CD, which leads to another fun story in the El Gaucho history.
“July 4, 1998, Paul let me be in the restaurant completely by myself, which was a bit spooky, to record my first CD,” he explains. “I spent the day and locked up around 6pm. I went home and later that night was by my wife’s side to help her have our third child. That was a big day!”
“Playing the music I love and getting paid for it is a blessing that few can do,” he says. “I will always be indebted to Paul Mackay for that opportunity. I have a great gig.”
Daniel performs every Tuesday-Saturday at 6:00pm at El Gaucho Seattle.