In 1943, Esquire magazine polled its jazz writers and critics who, with some difficulty, picked a “best of” contemporary jazz group, instrument by instrument. After a recording session for Commodore Records that December, it was decided to hold a concert, assembling as many of the players as possible, to be held at the venerable and decidedly non-jazz-friendly Metropolitan Opera House in New York City. Long-gone now, it stood for years on Broadway, between 39th and 40th, in midtown Manhattan.
Held ostensibly to boost War Bond sales, the January 18, 1944 concert was a big success, raising over $600,000.00 for the war effort. On hand was a who’s-who of jazz greats, most of whom had won first-place awards in Esquire’s poll. Barney Bigard was the clarinetist, Louis Armstrong and Roy Eldridge were the trumpeters, Jack Teagarden played trombone, Coleman Hawkins was on tenor sax, Lionel Hampton and Red Norvo were on vibes, and the rhythm section was comprised of Art Tatum, Teddy Wilson, Al Casey, Oscar Pettiford and Sid Catlett. Vocalists were Billie Holiday and Mildred Bailey, with able assistance in that regard from Armstrong and Teagarden.
Benny Goodman, who had taken first place on clarinet, was busy with an engagement in Hollywood, but the Blue Network (predecessor to ABC) arranged a live simulcast for the New York audience, still a bit of a technological curiosity at the time. Soldiers and sailors overseas either heard the broadcast live, or caught it later on V-Discs provided by the Armed Forces Radio Service.
Up until that time, jazz had been a fairly marginalized genre, and music polls skewed towards the most popular, white Swing bands and their soloists. Esquire managed to put real jazz back into the spotlight for a few years, and this concert was the high point of that rare media interest in the music.
To the best of our knowledge, no posters for this concert have survived. This, then, is a re-imagining of what an actual poster used to promote that evening’s performance might have looked like.