Benny Goodman, whose entrance Saturday night on the Kennedy Center stage brought the entire SRO audience instantly to its feet, may not vary his repertoire but still his set was characterized by surprises.
Billed as a sextet, Goodman's group swelled to nine as the leader called from the wings trombonist Urbie Green, coronetist Warren Vache Jr. and tenor saxophonist Harold Ashby. For the last half-dozen numbers of the evening Teddy Wilson replaced John Bunch at the piano.
Goodman was in good form, whether letting himself go on a torrid "Lady Be Good" or turning pensive on "Butterfly." Many of the selections seemed to lend a welcome informality to the proceedings, and at least one, "Air Mail Special," was an all-out jam.
Ashby's "Body and Soul," breathily erotic and then emotionally abandoned, brought applause second only to that awarded the headliner. Vache's "Marie Elena" was beautiful in its lyricism and startling for the ease with which he got into every nook and cranny of his horn. Green was alternately gruff and mellow, guitarist Chris Flory articulate and urgent.
Mel Torme, who opened with Gerry Mulligan's 14-piece orchestra, offered ballad and jazz standards of yesteryear and some originals with charm. He was as comfortable with the lush torch songs as with the show-stopping scat of "Jazz Is." Baritone saxist Mulligan and his chops-a-flying band showcased one tune after another from the prolific and original hand of its leader, whose carefully crafted arrangements ran the course from the reflective "Unfinished Woman" to the brassy and flag-waving "Another Kind of Sunday."