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Music of Count Basie and Duke Ellington celebrated this weekend

“If you play a tune and a person don’t tap their feet, don’t play the tune.”

– William “Count” Basie

“I merely took the energy it takes to pout and wrote some blues.”

— Edward Kennedy “Duke” Ellington

Loyal to the royals?

Ye faithful minions — this one’s for you.

“They were first-class gentlemen,” says producer/director Walter Mason, referring to jazz demigods Duke Ellington and Count Basie, subjects of his twin tribute three times over this weekend at the College of Southern Nevada’s Cheyenne Avenue campus.

“These styles of music by these jazz artists are the backbone of some of the musical heritage in America and in Europe.”

Catch the A train — if you can’t locate a Vegas subway, any mode of transport will do — over to CSN’s Nicholas J. Horn Theatre, site of “The Music of Duke Ellington Meets the Music of Count Basie.” That’s the highlight of the college’s third “Hands Across the Arts” benefit to raise funds for performing arts students and celebrate Black History Month.

“There are a lot of ways you can treat the blues, but it will still be the blues.”

— The Count

“Jazz has always been like the kind of man you wouldn’t want your daughter to associate with.”

— The Duke

Opening tonight with a ceremony honoring Cox Communications Vice President Steve Schorr with a “Lifetime Community Service Award,” the celebration really kicks in when the 17-piece New Life Orchestra, fronted by 89-year-old trombonist Jimmy Wilkins, an ex-Basie sideman, swings the Horn stage tonight and Saturday night, plus Sunday afternoon.

“I’m the last survivor of that band,” Wilkins says, wistfulness in his voice, of the Basie collection of all-stars with whom he jammed from 1951-53. “It was a joy going to work every night.”

Beyond a mere concert, “The Music of Duke Ellington Meets the Music of Count Basie” will be a multiperformer affair, staged by Mason’s Ira Aldridge Theatre Company and choreographed by Stephan Reynolds.

Tap dancer Lindell Blake, violinist Chase Nighter, vocalists Moronette Stephens and the Soprano Sisters, and Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong tribute artist Anthony Brady will team with the band.

“If you find a note tonight that sounds good, play the same damn note every night.”

— The Count

“Playing ‘bop’ is like playing Scrabble with all the vowels missing.”

— The Duke

Bandleader and producer each come to this salute with Duke/Count cred — in addition to Wilkins’ time with Basie as well as Clark Terry and Dizzy Gillespie, Mason worked with both giants during nearly a decade as Sammy Davis Jr.’s production manager.

“Duke was more overtly spiritual in his presentations, but both of them were cut from the same cloth,” says Mason, who was the first black entertainment director of the Las Vegas Hilton.

“Duke was more European in style in his approach to music, whereas Basie was blues-jazz-swing, but it came across the same way when they rendered expressions of the beat. And Duke was more intellectual in his approach. Basie was very meticulous in getting what he needed (from his musicians) and would rehearse vigorously, but he was more of a hail-fellow-well-met type.”

“Play like you think, and then you got it.”

— The Count

“My attitude is never to be satisfied. Never enough. Never.”

— The Duke

However divergent their personalities, their music lives on in the pantheon of jazz.

Duke’s oeuvre? Indestructible classics including “Satin Doll,” “Take the A Train,” “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore,” “Do Nothin’ Till You Hear From Me,” “Mood Indigo,” “Prelude to a Kiss,” “Perdido” and “I’m “Beginning to See the Light.”

Count’s repertoire? Big band anthems including “Corner Pocket,” “Shiny Stockings,” “One O’Clock Jump,” “April in Paris,” “Alright, OK, You Win,” “Li’l Darlin,” “Moten Swing” and “Kid From Red Bank.”

“I have very fond memories,” Wilkins says. “I never wanted a day off. Basie was straight-ahead, down-to-earth, foot-stompin’ music.”

Amen, bruddah.

“Until we meet again, keep on listening and tapping your feet.”

— The Count

“There is hardly any money interest in art. Music will be there when money is gone.”

— The Duke

Fans of both doubtless still feel what Ellington expressed in the title of his famous composition:

“Love You Madly.”

Contact reporter Steve Bornfeld at sbornfeld@ reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0256.

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