"He's the one who took me from playing notes to playing music. We always believe that music should make the people listening feel something. If they don't feel anything, you have not accomplished your job.
"That overseas experience in Algiers made me think maybe I could do this for a living. So we started recording. I made my first recording with my trio at the Athletic Club. There's nothing like the energy you feel when you are playing for a live audience.
"You can lose that in the studio because you start thinking about trying to refine it and make everything perfect, and you can refine away the music. In a live performance, you have that interaction and inspiration from the audience.
"Then I started with my own label, Rainbow Records. That was picked up by Intima, which was Capitol Records, my first national recording. I went from there to Ichiban Records out of Atlanta. Now I'm back to my own label, colortones.com.
"In the '80s, I spent a lot of time on the road. We played all the jazz clubs, the Blue Note in New York, Blues Alley in D.C. We played in Florida and out west, in Brazil and Switzerland. But I always came back here, because this was home.
"When I started playing with all musicians from Charleston, that was a turning point. It's kind of a balance. I like the quality of life here. My friends are here. We get a lot of support here, which means a lot.
"I've been playing here at the Boulevard Tavern on Tuesday nights for probably 17 or 18 years. This is where we get it together, where all the new music happens, where we get to play for our friends and fans.
"I learned in Charleston. In order to learn, you have to be able to play. In order to play, people have to come hear you. You won't be playing long if nobody shows up. People in this area have come out and listened, and that has enabled me to grow.
"In today's world, with the Internet and the way music is structured now, you can be anywhere. New York used to be the big center, now not so much. You go there when you have to.
"I do a lot of writing. That's an essential part of what we do. I'm fortunate to be playing with such talented musicians who all bring something new to the table, something of their own.
"I try to write music that gives everybody an opportunity to express their musical tastes. All of them could have their own bands. I'm fortunate that they choose to play with me.
"Driving is when I get a lot of ideas. If I write at the piano, I tend to fall into the same patterns I always do. Away from the piano, I can just focus on the music and get the basic idea.
"I always have something in the car that records, my phone or something. Before we had all that, I used to call home and put it on my answering machine.
"I try to write as little as possible to make it as open as possible. Then, when I give it to the guys in the band, they always make it something much more than what I had envisioned.
"I was on the original pilot show for Mountain Stage. Andy Ridenour got the idea for Mountain Stage from recording my trio down at Cagney's Pier at the Elk River Holiday Inn.
"Andy said we should do live music from there. Hugh McPherson came down, and we did a live radio broadcast that morphed into Mountain Stage. I was a guest in the beginning. Then in '91, they needed a piano player. I said I would do that for a while, and I'm still there.
"I used to teach 70 to 80 students a week. I still have a few. Most take a few lessons and work with that, then call when they're ready to come back.
"I did some teaching as an artist in residence in Kanawha County schools. That's something I may get back to with the new West Side school. I'd like to go in and help kids with piano.
"We still do our holiday concert every Christmas. We have a singer coming in this year, Tom Lellis. I worked with him years ago when I played at the Top of the Inn.
"I feel so blessed to be able to do something I enjoy every day and to play with talented musicians. When I'm playing, that's when I'm at home. That's when I feel like I'm really being me. That's probably the only time the real me comes out.
"I'm an easy guy. I take things as they come. I try to keep a positive attitude about everything I do. I like to be around positive people and younger people with energy. That keeps driving me on.
"I haven't started my bucket list yet. In my thinking, I'm always at the beginning. I always feel like I'm just starting out. I'm not thinking about the end."
Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.