Count Basie (left) and Duke Ellington

The St. Louis Jazz Orchestra will pay tribute to the music of jazz greats Count Basie (left) and Duke Ellington with a pair of concerts at the Touhill Center at UMSL. The first performance will focus on Ellington and begin at 7 p.m. Oct. 30. (Photos via Wikimedia Commons)

When speaking of jazz visionaries and musical trailblazers, Duke Ellington and Count Basie are typically mentioned in the same sentence. And while their music falls clearly into the same category, their styles were drastically different.

The St. Louis Jazz Orchestra will pay tribute to each legend’s legacy this concert season at the Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. “A Night of Duke Ellington” is the first concert. It will begin at 7 p.m. Oct. 30.

Prolific songwriter Duke Ellington led his namesake orchestra, but it’s his compositions that continue to inspire generations of jazz, theatre, pop and soundtrack composers. He wrote more than 3,000 songs in his lifetime, blending elements of American music, including ragtime, blues and Tin Pan Alley tunes to create his sound.

“In collaboration with Billy Strayhorn, Duke Ellington is the big-band equivalent of Beethoven and Bach to classical music,” noted Jim Widner, bassist, director of the St. Louis Jazz Orchestra and director of jazz studies at UMSL.

Ellington was the composer. Basie was the bandleader.

Basie led from his piano – but his true instrument was his band. His sound was about efficiency and economy, encouraging a “less is more” sound from band members. “Mr. Basie’s band, more than any other, was the epitome of swing, of jazz that moved with a built-in flowing intensity,” wrote the New York Times. His arrangements were relaxed, allowing a clean backdrop for generous solo turns from outstanding musicians in the band.

The St. Louis Jazz Orchestra will perform “A Night of Count Basie” at 7 p.m. Feb. 26 at the Touhill.

Come to just one concert to enjoy the sound of one of these greats. Or come to both because you can’t think of one without the other. Either way, you’ll hear the finest jazz musicians in the St. Louis area do what they do best – pay spectacular live tribute to big band royalty.

Tickets for each concert are $25. Call 314-516-4949 or visit to purchase tickets.

Ryan Heinz

Ryan Heinz