Goffin's second brainstorm was that he and Leonard should put together a critics' poll to honor new jazz talent of which the general public was little aware.
The two of them convinced Esquire's editor Arnold Gingrich to sponsor the poll. David Smart, publisher of the magazine, came up with the idea of putting on a concert featuring the winners. It was planned as a benefit for the Navy League, with war bonds sold for seats, and was the first jazz concert ever given at the Metropolitan Opera House. Leonard organized a recording session as soon as the votes were tabulated.
Billie Holiday, Art Tatum and bassist Oscar Pettiford were some of the first
winners. The more conservative jazz writers declared that the critics had
disgraced themselves and were guilty of inverted racism, as a smaller
percentage of the winners were white than in polls of the past. Disputes
about the relative merits of traditional jazz and the kind the Esky Award
recipients represented, became more hostile. The polls -- and concerts
spotlighting the winners -- went into their second and third years, honoring
such artists as Ella Fitzgerald, Woody Herman, pianist Teddy Wilson,
vibraphonist Red Norvo, and drummers Gene Krupa and Dave Tough.