Tuck & Patti perform on Feb. 12 at Silo’s in Napa.

Submitted photo

Tuck Andress and Patti Cathcart have been a couple in music and in life for almost 40 years. Their eclectic individual experiences, from classical to soul to funk to rock, were preamble to the jazz merger of his electric guitar and her alto voice. Tuck & Patti will play two shows on Sunday, Feb. 12, at Silo’s in Napa.

On the phone last month, they talked about the essence of jazz performance, the challenge of improvisation before a live audience. Andress has likened improvisation to the ever-shifting, moment-to-moment experience of running a white-water rapids or playing a race car video game.

“It’s something that you practice like you practice anything else,” he said. “You practice readiness and you practice being able to respond quickly and take in what is going on around you. It’s what every jazz musician talks about, the need for listening.

“No one does it effectively all of the time. Even with the greats you hear on albums, there’ll be these missed signals. It’s as if one musician smiled at another, but the other wasn’t looking so they missed the smile. It’s this tiny little micro-dynamic that’s going on all the time. Some signals are caught and some are missed and some are not quite responded to, where they just can’t respond in time.”

“It is all about listening,” Cathcart added. “When you miss it, you kind of go, ‘oh, I’ve missed it.’ But then the magic really can start because you get to play your way out of it. What was seemingly a missed moment can become magic. That is where the music is.”

“Nothing is catastrophic really,” Andress said. “We are lucky that we are in that kind of role as opposed to driving the real race car where a mistake could be catastrophic. We don’t have a safety net, but on the other hand, we don’t have very far to fall.

“Still, when we’re doing it, it feels like it’s a long way down and we’re supposed to feel that way. We’re supposed to feel the intensity and the urgency and the importance and reality of it.

“It is possible to be in this running-for-your-life feeling, that kind of intensity, and at the same time, at some point in your mind, you’re wondering, ‘What am I going to have for dinner tonight? What am I doing tomorrow?’ It’s very odd. It reminds me of when people talk about the wandering mind when you are meditating.”

“It’s true,” Cathcart said, “but there are those precious moments where you are just doing it, you’re just in it. I think that’s what’s addictive to musicians about it. That place where it’s not thinking, it’s just doing. You are in the middle of it. You’re being and you’re doing and that’s a beautiful thing.”

Andress talked about the pressure they experience before live audiences. “Whether we manage to dream the pressure up or whether it’s real, it doesn’t really matter,” he said. “When we’re doing it, we feel as if it really matters, and so we give it 100 percent.

“At a pretty early point in our collaboration, we both realized that this was going to take a lot closer to 100 percent than either of us had ever put into anything in terms of performance. There’s no possibility of letting up at any moment. You’ve got to be on continuously and 100 percent there, whatever your 100 percent is.”

To enhance their concentration in live performance, the duo were very early adopters of in-ear monitors, a technology now widely used by musicians. “It’s like being in a space suit,” Andress said. “The rest of the world disappears and it certainly helps us to focus on the details of the music.

“What Patti and I have been working on for all of these decades is just having the most sublime experience possible coming into our ears so we can make the most sublime music.”

Over their long career, the Grammy-nominated duo has released 14 albums, eight of which were Windham Hill recordings. More recently, their releases have been on their own label, T & P Records.

Sunday, Feb. 12, 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. $39—$45. Silo’s. 530 Main St., Napa. 707-251-5833. SilosNapa.com.

Heads Up

Hot Blue Note tickets in March: Bela Fleck and Kenny G.

Widely regarded as the world’s premier banjo player, Bela Fleck plays Blue Note along with his wife, banjo ace Abigail Washburn. Two shows on Saturday, March 25. $65-$85.

Kenny G. is one of the most successful instrumentalists in entertainment history. The smooth jazz saxophone star is headed to Blue Note for six shows, March 26-28. $79-$125.

Blue Note Napa is at 1030 Main St., Napa. For details, call 707-880-2300 or visit BlueNoteNapa.com.

David Kerns is a Napa-based freelance journalist. You can view more of his work at DavidKerns.com.