Sunday morning, and much of Washington is busy having breakfast with champions. It's Kennedy Center Honors day, and the town is dotted with parties and gatherings to toast this year's chosen from the arts world.

At Charlie's, the big brassy blast of the Count Basie Band stirred several hundred people who had come to pay their respects to the 77-year-old honoree.

Charlie's is not built for a 16-piece band, and for a while it looked as though there would be standing room only for many invited guests.

"We sent out a lot of invitations," said Washington surgeon C. Warfield Clark, who hosted the affair. "And we had almost no regrets," he added.

In fact, by the time the band had packed up and moved down the road for a rehearsal at the Kennedy Center, the crowd, lining up for Charlie's brunch, must have felt it had come from an all-night recording session.

Among the prominent Washingtonians who did manage to crowd into the Georgetown nightspot: an elegant Effi Barry, who entered arm-in-arm with legendary jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald; Howard Law School dean Wiley A. Branton; former ambassador True Davis; arts honcho Livingston Biddle; and Gail Ellington, Duke's granddaughter, who calls the Count "uncle."

Conversation was overwhelmed by the Basie Band's brief set, which was in turn highlighted by Fitzgerald's energetic reading of "Georgia Brown." Testing two microphones, she sang the same phrase into each. "Memorex?" she asked mischievously; it brought the house down.

Basie's entrance earned a standing ovation, as much for his "Super Chief" wheelchair (complete with horn and bumper) as for the achievements of his 45-year career. He looked as ready for mischief as for merriment. Speaking carefully and not venturing from his wheelchair, Basie told his band, "You sounded so good, I walked upstairs."

The brunch evolved into an impromptu birthday celebration for both Warfield Clark and Basie's wife, Katherine. It also led to one of the few discordant melodies as the capacity crowd tried to sing "Happy Birthday" to both at once.

Charlie's owner Bob Martin surveyed the festive crowd and the accumulated talent and almost wept. "I think I'd like to do this every day," he said.

A bit farther uptown, at the Fairfax Hotel, the crowd was smaller, the setting intimate and low-key, the array of talent a bit more concentrated as Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun and his wife were hosts at a a brunch for another honoree, choreographer Jerome Robbins.

A few guests said they regretted having missed the Charlie's bash, among them former Basie singer Joe Williams and vocalist Jon Hendricks. Ertegun, a jazz buff who got his start in Washington, said, "Jerry Robbins is our neighbor in New York, one of our closest friends, so we're especially thrilled that he's getting this great honor."

In a room packed with the rich and famous, "60 Minutes" producer Don Hewitt was telling ABC journalist Carl Bernstein about the guest of honor at the other party.

"Basie said, 'That show you did on me gave us a whole new lease on life.' I've never been so proud in my life." Surveying the room, Bernstein confided to Hewitt that "the one true celebrity I've met in my life is . . . Frank Perdue."

Also in attendance: Chief of Protocol Leonore Annenberg and her husband, publisher Walter Annenberg; and honoree Cary Grant with his wife, Barbara, and 12-year-old daughter, Jennifer.

Veteran actors Jimmy Stewart and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. were there -- both looking as senatorial as former senator Abraham Ribicoff -- along with American Film Institute head George Stevens Jr.; former Cabinet member Joseph Califano; actress Jayne Meadows; producer Sam Spiegel; and frequent Nancy Reagan escort Jerry Zipkin.

Both parties were punctuated with variations on a jet-set theme -- "Darling, good to see you!" Californians could be identified by more than their tans, though; one particularly healthy-looking man returned a glass of orange juice to the bar because it had vodka in it.

With so many stars together, it was natural to find photographer Ron Galella positioned near the only exit. Explaining his basic M.O. -- "I never ask 'em, I just take 'em" -- Galella was angling for a shot of Grant together with his wife and his daughter by an earlier marriage to Dyan Cannon. Said Galella, "I've never got them together."

Galella, who is known for his tenacity in pursuit of a photo, behaved more demurely than most of the Fairfax guests might have expected, though Grant stood apart from his wife and daughter when they left. As he waited by the elevator, the perennially elegant Grant told a hotel manager, "I know more guys that have hit him in the jaw. He shouldn't be allowed in this hotel." He then retired with his family to their suite to rest for the evening's events.

Galella, meanwhile, kept a vigil in the lobby. With reported sightings of Sissy Spacek, Audrey Hepburn and Mikhail Baryshnikov, his only worry may have been over having enough film to shoot the star-filled panorama.