"You have to listen so much harder and have to connect with the other musicians because something really spontaneous and unexpected may happen, and you have to be able to react in a way that is appropriate to that new occurrence in the music.
"That's not something you get when everything is composed and played the same way every time. There's a certain discipline to that, but when we play songs in Bob Thompson's band, it's never played the same way twice. Ever. When two different jazz groups play same song, it won't be played the same way. Everything can change so much all the time and still remain essentially the same song or piece of music.
"The groove just feels so good. I am completely and utterly present. I try to be completely focused and concentrating on what I'm doing. A lot of people think it is about just pouring emotion into everything, but it's hard to be as in control as you need to be and still consider the art to be this cathartic thing, where it's just an unbridled outpouring of emotion all the time. The music will be effective if it is performed well. So it's somewhere in between.
"I knew I was going to come back here because I had work waiting for me. I had flown in one Christmas to play in Bob Thompson's Christmas show, and I had been coming back during holidays and summers to play. Things had solidified to where I was pretty much a permanent member of the Bob Thompson Unit when I got home.
"I started playing in a trio at Soho's. Steve Himes had a gig there on Sundays and I would go with Derek Kirk, the saxophonist, and we would sit in.
"Even when we weren't working steadily, we were still taking our instruments where we knew there would be jazz happening and asking if we could play. I sat in with Himes and Dugan Carter and Bob and got to know everybody.
"I've learned more from Bob than I did at any school. He has a lot of insight as to how the business operates and how to conduct yourself, how to be a good person.
"The most important thing I've learned from Bob is that you play how you are. You can't live your life one way and play some other way. It's very honest, the most subtle, brutal kind of honesty there could ever be.
"There is no separation between how nervous or confident I might be in life and how nervous or confident I might be when I go out there and play. Whatever is going on in your life is what happens with the music, inevitably, even if you don't think so.
"I've got Mountain Stage, Bob, my Wednesday night gig at the Bistro, and I teach privately. I play here at the Unity Church on Sundays. Ron Sowell, the Mountain Stage band director, is the music director here.
"In August, the Mountain Stage Band played two shows in Fairbanks, Alaska. They were probably the two best-received Mountain Stage shows I've ever seen. I didn't realize that many people in the area listened to the show.
"I'm making a living as a musician. It makes a lot of sense that it has worked out the way it has. I had faith that if I put myself in a situation with people who were like-minded and wanted to work, I would be able to work, too. Who knows where it will go from here?
"All I need to do now is do it on a bigger scale. I've never been the type to risk everything and throw myself out there in an open-ended way -- the old model of having a record I want to peddle, hyping myself up and moving to L.A. or New York where thousands of other people are trying to do exactly the same thing and maybe less than 1 percent actually achieve stardom.
"If I was interested in that, I would have just started a rock band and tried to be a star. I wouldn't have gone to Berklee.
"The way to make a surefire living is to make yourself prepared enough to say yes whenever you get the call to play. I can say yes to a lot of people, whether they need me to play a jazz gig, a classical gig or a rock gig.
"I've got a CD that I have spent way too long working on. It should be out in the next couple of months. I need some cover art for it and to finish up the last little bit of mastering. I recorded it four or five years ago at Bob Webb's house.
"It's called 'Something to Say.' That came from Bob. I was fighting with myself over a title. I let Bob hear it and he just said, 'I think you definitely have something to say.' So that's the title.
"All the songs are original compositions. I'm already thinking about the next one."Reach Sandy Wells at san...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-5173.