With a couch and coffee table located a few yards away, the "Tonight Show's" Tommy Newsom must have felt right at home when he helped the U.S. Air Force's Airmen of Note celebrate their 40th anniversary Friday night at the Kennedy Center.
Part concert and part talk show -- Newsom and fellow guests Toni Tennille and Sammy Nestico chatted briefly with jazz broadcaster Paul Anthony between tunes -- the performance got off to a wobbly start, thanks to a poor sound mix that rendered a few solos nearly inaudible when the 17-piece band performed an otherwise vibrant Mike Crotty arrangement of Duke Pearson's "Jeanniene." The amplification system also made Paul Henry's acoustic bass sound brittle in the early going, and even when the problem seemed more or less resolved, the hall's cavernous acoustics clearly robbed the brass and reeds of some their brilliance.
Still, subsequent arrangements by Newsom and Nestico, both former members of the band, were hard to resist. Better known as "Mr. Excitement" to Carson fans, Newsom distinguished himself on tenor sax with a soulful and lushly tailored reading of "Body and Soul," while Nestico, best known for the charts he wrote for Count Basie's band, was first represented by his soaring, custom-tailored Air Force anthem "Saber Jet." Later, Nestico was responsible for settings that flattered Tennille's full-throttle version of "Lover" and her refreshingly subdued treatment of the Johnny Mercer musing "Dream."
Along the way there was ample opportunity for band director Peter BarenBregge, former band trombonist Dave Steinmeyer and several soloists within the ensemble to shine as well.