For those of us fortunate enough to have become familiar with the brilliant musical talents of the Anderson Twins (via their previous successes with Le Jazz Hot and Those Fabulous Dorseys at New York’s 59E59 Theaters), the new delights of THE COUNT MEETS THE DUKE: The Andersons Play Basie & Ellington came as no surprise. The handsome, slim and well-groomed twin brothers could have just as easily been Brooks Brothers models in their sharp business suits, and this concert would be all business with a generous amount of fun and musical education thrown into the mix. It qualifies as a “must” for both jazz aficionados and casual music lovers of the Big Band era. With Peter on tenor saxophone & clarinet, and twin brother Will on alto saxophone, clarinet & flute, the gents were ably assisted by more brilliant musicianship from renowned jazz pianist, Jeb Patton, Clovis Nicolas on acoustic bass, and Phil Stewart on drums.
As suggested by the title, the program would celebrate the orchestras and music of both Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Both musically superb and educationally fascinating, this presentation could work well as a seminar for the gifted at Julliard where these twin prodigies once honed their skills. Historical details and archival film footage tastefully punctuate the musical performances. With the walls of the theater space proudly displaying the amusing jazz-age caricatures of legendary artist, Al Hirschfeld, the intimate atmosphere is perfect for the jazz jamming that follows.
The first part of the concert focuses on fascinating stories, photos and film clips from Mr. Basie’s musical career as the group performs such classic jazz gems as Neal Hefti’s, “Cute.” The number features sensational flute work from Will and dazzling skill from Peter on tenor sax, while the cascading notes from Mr. Patton on piano, the softly pulsing bass of Clovis Nicolas, and the gentle percussion of drummer, Phil Stewart round out the pleasing performance. That trend would continue with “Li’l Darlin’,” another composition by composer/arranger/trumpeter, Hefti, who originally arranged the piece for the Count Basie Orchestra. Old-timers like myself may recall that mellow and soothing tune as the number that Doc Severinsen and the Tonight Show Band would use each night to gently close out the program for Johnny Carson. Further beautifully performed Basie jazz delights included the rapid-fire Basie/Lester Young number, “Tickle Toe,” and the playful Freddie Green tune, “Corner Pocket,” with the latter seeming like a kind of brilliant conversation between the alto and tenor saxophones of our stars. Patton brought rolling splendor to his rippling piano explorations during Billy Strayhorn’s “A Flower is a Lonesome Thing,” and the twins quickly followed with “The Midgets,” a tune associated with legendary jazz flautist, Frank Wess. Peter’s elaborate flute skill here was matched by Will’s incredible dexterity on sax, but both lads would step politely aside to give the limelight to solo moments for their talented colleagues.
The Ellington section of the program began with the fun of a vintage video clip of the Duke’s appearance on, “What’s My Line?” There would be tales of his start in Washington, D.C., the move to the Cotton Club in New York’s Harlem, and his orchestra’s State Department tours around the world. Oriental influences from touring Japan are demonstrated here with a fine performance of Basie’s “Ad Lib on Nippon.” The audience was also treated to the lush sax intricacies of Billy Strayhorn’s, “Johnny Come Lately,” and the soothing, warm and embracing Basie/Ellington tune, “Star-Crossed Lovers.” An upbeat performance with a sensational drum solo from Mr. Stewart, “Battle Royal,” tips its hat to the one-time special event performance of the two great big band orchestras that was titled, The Count Meets the Duke. Samplings of such countless other jazz delights as “Mood Indigo,” and “Take the ‘A’ Train,” were just further reminders of how fortunate we are to have the Anderson Twins to direct our attention to the intersection of these two legendary jazz giants.
THE COUNT MEETS THE DUKE: The Andersons Play Basie & Ellington continues a limited engagement through Sunday, January 3. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 5:30 PM & 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM, 5:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM & 7:30 PM. Please note, there is no performance on 12/25 (Christmas Day). Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 members) for performances thru December 20th; $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 members) for performances from December 22nd – January 3rd. To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to http://www.59e59.org.