"The way I begin some sets is by just dropping beautiful tones in the piano and letting beautiful sounds fall out," says Dave MacKay. ". . . There is an absolute energy that happens . . . and feelings and love are flowing to you and back to them and it's sort of hard to say where it began and where it stops."

Afflicted with retinitis pigmentosa since his mid teens, the 54-year-old MacKay can now only make out "really, really vague shadows and a little bit of light." Pianist, singer and composer MacKay will bring his unique musical vision to Cates Tuesday for a three-week run. Steve Novosel will be at the upright bass.

A native of Syracuse, N.Y. (he now lives in San Fernando, Calif.), MacKay studied piano with the late Lennie Tristano, and the roots of his style lie in Art Tatum, both of whom were blind. His associations have included cornetist Bobby Hackett and saxophonist Sonny Stitt.

"I like to let the music itself tell me how to play it," says MacKay. "For instance, I was recently extemporizing on a theme from one of Tchaikovsky's piano concertos, and that reminded me of Jerome Kern's 'The Folks Who Live on the Hill.' Those songs seem to want to be together."