The Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia’s performance of “The Harlem Nutcracker” has become something of a holiday tradition, but this year the celebration was shared with an occasion at least as momentous for the jazz community: Charlie Parker’s 100th birthday.

Granted, the party took place about a year and a half late, for reasons that hardly need mentioning at this point. But even belatedly, the iconic saxophonist’s centennial inspired a festive evening of music Saturday night at the Annenberg Center.

The Jazz Orchestra, led by trumpeter Terell Stafford and now under the purview of the Philly Pops, first performed “The Harlem Nutcracker” in December 2014, less than a year after the ensemble’s formation. Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn originally reimagined Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Suite” in jazz form in 1960, putting a big band spin on the Christmas classic.

The first half of Saturday’s concert was given over to the nine-movement suite, played with high-spirited gusto by the 18-piece band. Propelled by the rock-solid swing of bassist Lee Smith and drummer Steve Fidyk, the piece moved at a brisk pace punctuated by terse solos. A few of the musicians were given brief moments in the spotlight, with Chris Farr’s raucous tenor and Chris Oatts’ sinuous alto as particular standouts, though the emphasis was on the witty Ellingtonian arrangements. Dancing as nimbly as a ballerina in the music’s more traditional setting, clarinetist Sean Bailey bandied melodies with baritone saxophonist Mark Allen, while trombonists Chris Mele and Jarred Antonacci moaned and roared.

While the first half felt as warm and comforting as a glass of eggnog in front of the fireplace, it was after intermission that the music really took flight. Parker, whose influence on the history of jazz can’t be overstated, would have turned 100 years old in August 2020. To honor him, Stafford invited two great contemporary altoists from different generations to explore big band arrangements of a half-dozen classic Bird tunes.

Veteran saxophonist Charles McPherson, 82, is a Parker disciple so well-versed in the master’s music that he was chosen to contribute to the soundtrack for Clint Eastwood’s 1988 biopic Bird. He’s also a gifted composer and performer of his own music, and served a long tenure in the band of legendary bassist Charles Mingus. Jaleel Shaw, nearly 40 years McPherson’s junior, is a Philadelphia native known as an imaginative and virtuosic soloist.

The two saxophonists were a study in contrasts, but most importantly neither attempted an imitation of Charlie Parker, while both, perhaps inevitably given Bird’s far-reaching influence, were obviously informed by his groundbreaking style. The six Parker arrangements were played as a medley and essentially served as a jazz concerto for the two altoists.

“Yardbird Suite” opened the tribute at a rollicking pace, with Shaw and McPherson trading extended solos. Shaw’s molten lines seemed effortless, pouring out of his horn with sleek turns and lithe acrobatics. McPherson’s tone was tart and rugged, soaring into piercing squeals before plunging into grunting honks. The elder saxophonist twisted melodies into gnarled lines with unpredictable angles, flecked with a fieriness that brought the audience to their feet at multiple points during the night.

The differences were especially clear on the program’s two ballads. “Quasimodo,” which Parker wrote based on the chord changes of the classic song “Embraceable You,” was cleverly returned to its source as Shaw started his solo by crooning the melody to the original standard. He went on to spin elegant and seductive variations on the melody at length.

McPherson’s turn came with a rendition of “Lover Man,” best known for Billie Holiday’s aching version. After the band’s dramatic fanfare, McPherson entered with a wounded swagger, his breathy yet robust playing transforming the tune into a world-weary lament.

“Chasin’ the Bird” was taken at an appropriately breakneck pace, while “My Little Suede Shoes” found the big band swaying hazily, the jaunty melody passed to Lee Smith’s nimble bass. A raucous version of Parker’s “Diverse” concluded the main program, before a quick, brassy romp through “Jingle Bells” sent the crowd home in the holiday spirit.