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Tammi Brown performs with her band on the Garden Stage during the 55th annual Monterey Jazz Festival on Friday.

Santa Cruz gospel/blues singer Tammi Brown was out of breath when she came off the Garden Stage on Friday night at the 55th annual Monterey Jazz Festival.

"I had so much fun up there," she said, pausing to catch her breath while well-wishers swirled around her. "That was an amazing experience that I will never forget for the rest of my life. I had to keep my composure because I was about to bust out in tears!"

Brown could be forgiven even if she did lose her composure (early microphone problems didn't help her cause) — this was, after all, her first time playing the jazz festival and as the festival opener, all eyes were on her.

But she didn't, of course, offering a satisfying set that mixed some R&B, blues and even soulful takes on a couple of Burt Bacharach/Hal David tunes, "What the World Needs Now" and "The Look of Love."

The latter song started with Brown on solo piano and segued into each band member soloing, with backup singer Alysha Antonino breaking into an Adele song and fellow singers Tanya Fitzgeral and Richard Bryant of Monterey (and of White Album Ensemble fame) scatting, Bryant veering off into the soul classic "You've Got the Love."

Brown ended her set under a beautiful red sky and cool night with a soulful rendition of John Lennon's "Imagine."

"I love all different types of music, but my own particular love is gospel music; all this just allows me to express that," she said.


Brown also performs at 2:30 p.m. Sunday with Linda Tillery and the Cultural Heritage Choir at the Garden Stage.

Brown's band actually set the tone for the weekend, playing without the singer and her backups, with a smoking hot version of Sonny Rollins' "Pent-Up House."

Cuban conguero Pedrito Martinez continued to stoke the fire with a heated and passionate set of Afro-Cuban jazz and salsa in the Night Club. The New York-based quartet (two percussionists, bassist and pianist) had the audience up and dancing, a rare sight in the Night Club.

A real revelation was Martinez's keyboardist/singer Ariacne Trujillo, who was a powerhouse on both instruments. If this is an indication of what's to come this weekend, we're all in for a whirlwind ride.

Saturday is punctuated with two big stars, the sensational New Orleans trombonist/singer Trombone Shorty in the afternoon and the ageless wonder Tony Bennett in the evening.

Troy "Shorty" Andrews was a breakout hit at the festival two years ago, filling the Garden Stage area to such capacity that fans were literally climbing trees to see him. That same year Bennett mesmerized the audience in the main arena, proving that even though well beyond 80 years of age, he could still command and captivate an audience of thousands.

Saturday afternoon at the jazz fest is usually a pretty leisurely affair, filled with conversations, films, clinics, student bands and a traditionally blues-leaning lineup, especially on the Garden Stage.

But don't tell that to the energetic pedal steel player Robert Randolph, who will bring his gospel-drenched blues and rock to the arena early on and close out the afternoon on the Garden Stage.

Randolph and his group, The Family Band, bring a rock energy and abandon to their music, exhorting crowds to dance and testify, no doubt inspired by his upbringing in the House of God church, in which the wailing of the pedal steel guitar is a church tradition.

Other Saturday highlights include a performance of the Blues Broads, five of the best singers in blues, including Angela Strehli, Tracy Nelson, Dorothy Morrison, Annie Sampson and special guest Deanna Bogart, who also plays keyboards and saxophone, guitarist Bill Frisell's commissioned piece, a tribute to Cal Tjader led by pianist Michael Wolff, singer Catherine Russell, New Orleans trumpeter Christian Scott and rising star bassist Ben Williams and Sound Effect. And that's just scratching the surface.

Mac McDonald can be reached at 646-4351.