Artist Feature of the Month – Meet AQUA by El Gaucho Pianist Benet Fleck
If music be the food of love, play on. ~William Shakespeare
Ambiance is a key part of the El Gaucho experience, and music plays an important element in setting the stage at our restaurants, which is why we are proud to offer live music, 7 nights a week. We will be introducing you to the talented and passionate musicians who share their gift with us.
Usually, our blogs are story form, mostly featuring the varied and interesting people who are a part of our company. This one, however, we decided to do a bit differently. As you’ll soon discover, any changes to this question and answer format would just not be the same. Therefore, we give you Ben Fleck.
What is your full name?
Benet J. Fleck Sr.
Do you have a nickname/what do coworkers call you?
That’s from my butt implants! Okay. It’s not real. I made it up. Nicknames stick. “Champ?” “Fingers?”…
Where were you born?
I was born at Seattle General Hospital in 1960. I was the biggest baby born there in ten years, and I still am.
So how big is big?
10 1/2 pounds. My poor mom. Could she ever forgive me? Forgive dad? We’ll just have to wait for the Benet Fleck story to come out of Hollywood.
Did you grow up in Seattle?
Grow up? Funny. I grew OLDER on Capitol Hill, here in Seattle. From Saint Joseph’s grade school (No wonder I retain a peculiar penchant for physical women who wear black and white) then off to get punched through O’Dea High School. In between, I delivered newspapers, played soccer, threw snowballs, discovered beer, replaced Catholicism with the Beatles, Steely Dan, Credence Taylor, Thelonius and Jethro Tull and the other British invasion, worked at Ivar’s Restaurant, Swedish Hospital, took piano lessons, worked at Safeway, Muzac, then attended North Seattle Community College before graduating Cornish College of the Arts, Cum Laude, in the jazz department in piano and composition.
Walk us through your career journey to your present position. When did you start playing at AQUA?
I performed in all sorts of bands: Basement rock ‘n roll to smooth jazz’s Tony Gable and 206. Then there was funk, blues, rock, salsa, and even country bands. I love theater. I made music for many of them in Seattle: Act, The Rep, Intiman, Group, New City, Odd Duck, Arts West, Seattle Public Theatre. I will be hosting a staged reading of my new musical, “Eve and Eddie” soon, before submitting it to The Village Theater’s new musicals program. Broadway, here we come!
In the meantime, I played in most of the bigger structures you see around this town, on boats, and in the hotels. I was at the Sheraton for 13 years before I turned around and realized that you could spend so much time somewhere. I spent a lot of time in bars studying life before I realized that I may as well get a job in one. I played outside the Georgian Room at the beautiful and forbidding Fairmont Hotel for one year before I hired on The Waterfront (now AQUA), 12 and 1/2 years ago. I taught piano along the way and am thinking about remounting this part of my life as Ms. Wells Fargo relentlessly knocks upon my door…
Where else do you currently play?
I play private events anywhere I am needed. People who have hired me have been very kind and welcoming. The Space Needle 50th anniversary was wonderful. The opening of the Chihuly Garden of Glass was spectacular (I brought Windex for Dale, just in case). AQUA patrons have been bold enough to hire me as well.
Who or what influenced you to become a musician? Was there a “defining moment” when you realized you wanted to do this for a living?
I was 14 and bussing tables on 15th avenue at The Beau Jardin. An old guy used to come in on Saturday afternoons for his vodka tonics and cigarettes. “What do you do when you’re not here?” he asks through a cloud of Winstons. I say, “I play piano.” He says, “Play piano- the piano player always gots work.” And I say, “Yeah?” And he says, “Yeah, the piano player always gots work.”
There was that. And playing in the penthouse of the Sorrento Hotel for a reception, the beautiful party hostess insisted that I take a break, “Have some food.”… I was on the roof-top veranda looking over the warmed August city with a glass of champagne, Brie, crackers and grapes. You do the math.
Do you play other instruments? If so, what?
Bass, drums, guitar, harmonica, keyboard things…none well…
Who is your musical idol? Now and as a child and in between?
Paul McCartney, Stephen Sondheim, The Keith Jarrett Trio, Don Ho, Django Reinhardt, Mozart, Cole Porter, Johnny Rotten, Miles Davis, Ennio Moricone, Bud Powell, The Beastie Boys, and Primo Kim of course.
Anyone fun or famous you’ve played with or shared the stage with?
I got called to play with Bo Diddley once. That was cool. “I’m a M-A-N- Maaaan!” On stage for the Ivar’s Fourth of July they used to have near the pier. I played with Chuck Berry once. Go Johnny Go. That was an honor, and I told him so. I gigged with Kenny G. a couple times. So many musical “sweethearts” over the years. Being near/on a stage with theater actors is very compelling. I am involved with this still, in my new musical comedy, “Eve and Eddie.”
Tell us more about Eve and Eddie.
We are still tweaking a bit, then rounding up 8 actors, a director and a location for a staged reading with music. I’ll let you know as things get into place. Warm weather, out-of-towners, and work are prevalent things right now. It is funny, and the songs are good.
What is your favorite song to play?
“(Still) I Think Of You” from “Eve and Eddie.”
What are your most important accomplishments, both personal and professional?
Helping create two beautiful children. Learning over the years, what love is, and what it is not.
Tell us a bit about your family.
My dad was laid off from Boeing in 1970 with a wife, a new house and eight kids. I am one of the last here in Seattle… alive… The Chippewas took the rest… though we fought hard…
What are you known for?
I am known mainly for my strength. That, and being a huge coward. And I can levitate myself. Oh, I can play piano and hold a conversation. This causes me to see double the rest of the night. Don Julio! Where are you?!
What are some of your hobbies?
Voodoo dolls, witchcraft, Scientology, and kites… Okay, enough with the cajoling. One of my hobbies is; I like to think.
What’s a little-known thing about you that you don’t mind sharing?
I lost a bet with Mickey at the bar one night about a certain election. “The loser has to get the opposing president’s name tattooed on his ass.” So…I have a tattoo of the name, BUSH, (in the font of a dollar bill) on my LEFT butt cheek. It’s my only tattoo. I’ll show it to anyone who asks…
Tell us some of your favorite things. This can include food, drink, book, TV show, movie, song, quote or mantra, place.
I love long walks on the beach. Sunsets. Someone to hold hands with and confide in… WAIT A SECOND!!! I thought this was E-Harmony!!!
Favorite Food? PCC clean. Organic-real…NON Monsanto. Don’t even get me started here.
Drink? Don Julio Tequila with a beer chaser… and everything else. Red, white and clear.
Book? “Go-Dog-Go!” of course. I like writers who tell the truths. Twain and Hitchens. I’m reading Homer’s, “The Illiad” right now. It’s really funny. Try reading it aloud with a Yiddish accent sometime.
“If you think something is weird, it probably is.”
“Never trust a person who starts a sentence with: “Trust me…”
“The answer is the question.”
“The answer is, Love.”
“Okay, Washington, Legalize pot… But, c’mon guys, just don’t smoke it all the time.”
and the same with: “Enough with the Prozac, people!”
What is your favorite thing about working for AQUA by El Gaucho?
The people that I work with. They provide humor, love, hard work, intelligence, companionship and even cigarettes when needed. It’s cool… Swanky, you know. I even get to play the sunsets.
The guests can be very interesting. You are always meeting someone with a story. ”People watching” is what they call it, right?
I really love the Puget Sound. The water. I ate oysters with Ivar when I worked there in food prep a hundred years ago. He paid well, and it was hard work. That’s why his bobble-head is on my piano. He was a pioneering waterfront restaurateur icon.
Is there is anything else that you’d like to share with us?
People tell you things at the piano. Things you may not need to know…”You know those hotels on Panama Bay with all the lights on at night? (“Uh, no”) They are all booked up, but no one stays in ‘em. That’s how they launder the U.S.’s money…”
I sort of grew up in restaurants and hotels, from the back of the house through the front. I have known Paul Mackay for a long time. I played at El Gaucho Seattle 1 and 2 nights a week for years before I played Pier 70. I like his style. We have similar philosophies about the restaurant business. Good people doing good work with good intentions, and you’ll get a good product. Have fun. Location helps…
I’d like to thank everyone involved for putting up with me for so long. Stop by and see me sometime! Ta-ta.