Various Artists

Esquire All-American Jazz Concert

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Esquire Magazine, like Metronome and Downbeat, popularized itself and jazz music by conducting reader's polls in order to designate certain musicians as being "on top." Eventually Esquire recast its version of the contest as a Critic's Poll. Using a point system to award highest honors, Esquire's judges selected established artists representing swing, the established form of jazz. The fact that in the 1944 poll Lester Young only earned two points makes it difficult to fully respect the legitimated, critically minded white men assembled by Esquire to judge participants in these contests. This is precisely why Miles Davis would disparage such polls years later, accusing the critics of treating musicians like racehorses. In any case, on January 18, 1944, 19 of the performers who had been assigned the greatest number of points gathered at the Metropolitan Opera House for an "All-American" concert jam of remarkable dimensions. Admission was paid in the form of war bonds, and established popularity was considered crucial in order to draw sufficient crowds. This event served to perforate an artificial, elitist barrier, for were it not for the bond drive, it is said, the Met would never have opened its doors to jazz in 1944. Some of the music was recorded on acetates for use by the Armed Forces and portions of the evening's entertainment were broadcast over the airwaves. These are the circumstances surrounding the live recording issued here in its entirety on a double compact disc. The music itself is excellent and the liner notes provide a numerical key to assist in identifying who is playing on each track. The lineup is amazing. This is a precious audio documentary of a phenomenal all-star wartime concert hall blowing session. Highly recommended.

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