For jazz duo Tuck and Patti, music breaks down barriers. GOSPEL/BLUES ROOTS

It's rare these days to find a guitarist and singer who can perform just about anything with no accompaniment but themselves, but Tuck and Patti do it, sending audiences into gales of screaming approval. After the first few songs in their debut at the Bottom Line cabaret here, somebody back in the corner couldn't contain himself any longer and shouted, ``You guys are great!''

Later, a different member of the audience followed them to their dressing room after the show and said, ``Where are you playing tomorrow night?''

``Philadelphia,'' Patti said.

``I'll be there,'' he said.

So just what is it that makes guitarist William (Tuck) Andress and his wife, vocalist Patti Cathcart, so special? When their debut album, ``Tears of Joy,'' came out on the new Windham Hill Jazz label earlier this year, ears perked up to hear just how powerful Patti's gospel/jazz/blues/soul-inspired vocals sounded with Tuck's innovative, swinging, creative guitar backup.

Then the next surprise was that they performed everything from super-hip jazz tunes by Bob Dorough (``I've Got Just About Everything'') to flat-out Cyndi Lauper pop (``Time After Time''), timeless standards (Rodgers and Hart's ``My Romance''), and first-rate originals (``Tears of Joy,'' ``Everything's Gonna Be All Right'').

``I love music. I am a product of everything I've ever heard,'' says Patti, a native Californian, who counts Ella Fitzgerald, Carmen McCrae, Betty Carter, Ethel Waters, Patsy Cline, Al Jarreau, and Jeffrey Osborn among her many influences. She has sung in churches, directed choirs, and played classical violin for 11 years.

Tuck and Patti have paid their dues, as they say in the business, gigging all around the San Francisco Bay Area, playing lounges, clubs, weddings - just about anything, as long as they could do it their way. It was a long wait, but eventually it paid off, when they got the call from the Windham Hill Jazz label. Actually, Tuck and Patti had been approached by a number of record companies, which all said the same thing: Get a rhythm section, and we'll sign you up. But Tuck is the only rhythm section they wanted - or needed. When he plays the guitar, everything is there: the bass lines, the rhythm, the melodies. So they are grateful to Windham Hill for giving them free artistic rein.

Now that they're achieving a certain degree of fame, Tuck and Patti are careful not to get hooked on it.

``The applause is great, of course,'' says Patti, ``but there's always that moment when you've done the best work of your life, and they sit and stare at you!''

Or, on the other hand, you have a lousy night, and everybody thinks it's great. That, according to Tuck, who is a follower of guru Meher Baba, is evidence that musical inspiration comes from a higher power - one that keeps going no matter how you feel, no matter how the audience feels.

Tuck says, ``A lot of the time we'll get the feedback, `Oh, we saw so much love between you guys.' And it's true: We have a great deal of love and respect, but we've also received the same kind of feedback on a night when we've just had an argument - 'cause we're married, and that happens sometimes. So during the moment that they experienced that, maybe we weren't having very good feelings for each other, but we said in advance, `This is not ours; we're trying to give this up to God to whatever extent we can.'''

Adds Patti, ``I can be mad at William Andress, but Tuck and Patti have to perform.... Music is a healing thing.'' Patti laughs as she recalls an incident that she feels points up the absurd lengths anger sometimes drives people to.

``One day a year, Meher Baba followers all over the world - because he was silent for 40 years - celebrate one day of silence. And so I remember some years ago, it was approaching midnight just before silence, and Tuck and I were in the middle of a nyah, nyah, nyah. And 12 o'clock came; so it was time to stop talking. I pulled out a piece of paper and started furiously writing this and this and this, and all of a sudden I said to myself, `Is this worth it? I have to write all this stuff down?'''

Patti says it's the same with the music - it makes you stop and look at what you're doing. Tuck and Patti have worked together for about 10 years and have been married for about seven. ``And we've been best friends for about 97/8 years,'' adds Tuck. They feel that the fact they're an interracial couple has been an asset rather than a problem.

Tuck says, ``The fact that we're different races, just as we are different sexes, helps to make a statement - which is that love is something that is universal and brings people together; it erases all distinctions.''

Tuck and Patti continue on tour through Nov. 3.

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