Jazz according to the 1932 Everyman’s Encyclopedia

Published in 1931–32, with 12 volumes, 7 million words, 9,000 pages and 50,000 articles, the second edition of Everyman’s Encyclopedia was edited by Athelstan Ridgway. We recently inherited our family’s set. I’ve been bemused by their section on jazz, and thought I’d preserve it here for posterity. I’ve broken up their interminable paragraphs for readability, and I’ve probably omitted some of their multitude of commas.

Obviously, music isn’t the only subject the encyclopedia covers – they also chronicle sea life.

For context on their jazz article, here are a couple of popular jazz pieces from the same era. Paul Whiteman’s cover of Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ was recorded in 1924.

Duke Ellington’s ‘Mood Indigo’ was one of the biggest jazz hits of 1930, around the time the article was presumably written.


“Jazz is the name given to the post-war development of dance music, a musical idiom deriving in mood, it is claimed, from negro folk-song and based technically on the device of syncopation, that is, in delayed or misplaced accent.

The term is often misapplied to what may more accurately be called ragtime, a crude attempt to give vitality to dance music which was practiced in England during and immediately after the Great War, and which was remarkable only for its sterility and its desperate employment of kitchen utensils.

Jazz, or, as it has also been called, symphonic syncopation, was introduced into England from America in 1924 when Paul Whiteman’s band made a triumphal tour of the country. Since since then it has developed very rapidly, though only remarkably in the instrumental virtuosity of its executants. The early jazz musicians, like the early medieval choirs, improvised a rudimentary counterpoint while listening to the melody. But now their tunes are elaborately and variously scored, and the quality of present-day dance bands is to be judged chiefly by the harmonic and rhythmical resources of the orchestrator.

It is impossible, in the face of its immense popular appeal, to ignore jazz. Yet it is too obviously confined to the trick of syncopation; a legitimate device which is a tiny part of the musical knowledge of, for instance, Bach and Beethoven. Jazz has tried to base a new music on this single isolated trick. Its future seems to depend on a composer who can prove that jazz is sufficiently fertile to nourish personal expression, as the music of Beethoven, of Brahms, of Schubert, or of Schubert is personal. So far Gershwin in America, Krenek in Germany and Constant Lamb [sic: Lambert] in England have produced more or less abortive compositions in the jazz idiom.

The commercial exploitation of jazz is degraded only in so far as it tends to standardise the product and resist musical growth. Although jazz is yet to win the approval of serious musicians, it will undoubtedly be part of the social history of the early 20th century.

Mr. T. S. Elliot has suggested the effect the internal combustion engine has had on our personal conception of rhythms. Something of the sort seems responsible for the popularity of jazz, combining, as it does, an easily repeated formula or melancholy, very welcome to the emotionally bankrupt or wasteful with the comforting reliability of a precise engine beat. “A hypnotised abandonment of self”, as it it has been shrewdly defined, “to the exact rhythms of machinery”.”

Astonishingly, all four jazz composers and musicians mentioned in the article are white – including Constant Lambert, the father of Who manager Kit Lambert. For more of their inherent musical racism, here’s the Everyman’s Encyclopedia article on Folk-music:


“Traditional melodies, the spontaneous expression of national temperament in popular times, and essentially an art of the peasantry. Nearly every race has its own folk songs and dances; in primitive races they are almost invariably associated with religious rites.

European folk is, of course, the finest and the nationality of the chief types can be readily identified. Celtic, German, and Slavonic races have the strongest predilection for self-expression in folk songs and many other examples of rare beauty is very strongly rhythmic and of the most simple and regular construction.

Several of the great composers have collected and transcribed folk tunes, eg Brahms’ Hungarian Dances, Lizst’s Hungarian Rhapsodies, Dvořák’s Slavonic Dances etc.; whilst nearly all composers have used them, more or less, in their works notably Haydn (Hungarian), Mendelssohn (German and Scottish), Greig (Scandinavian), and Tchaikovsky, Glinka, and Borodin (Russian).

Even n***** tunes have been used, chiefly by Coleridge-Taylor who embodied both American plantation songs and African negro chants in several of his compositions; and Dvořák, who used plantation songs in his New World Symphony and the Op 96 String Quartet (known as a n****** quartet).”

I clearly need to start comparing every piece of music to Brahms as well…


Graham Fyfe is probably the only music blogger to appreciate Neil Diamond and Ariana Grande. Aphoristic Album Reviews features reviews and blog posts across a growing spectrum of popular music.


  1. ::shake my head:: another shameful chapter in the history of white men. I remember watching Ken Burns’ (not all white men are bad, he’s living proof) Jazz series and saw how white men tried to take away the banjo from Africans. Do you know Rhiannon Giddens (her music?) She and her group of musician friends/collaborators are “taking the banjo back.” I love it. Graham, maybe your inherited encyclopedia set would be best served in a “History of Racism” museum? We have a museum like that not far north of here, near Ferris State University.

    • I don’t know if it’s any more racist than normal for the time – just reflecting the cultural values of the age.

      I’ve heard of Rhiannon Giddens but don’t know her music. Watching the video for ‘I’m On My Way’ now – she’s good, kind of a melting pot of country and soul. I thought I caught a glimpse of Joe Henry in the video, and looks like he’s the producer.

      • True, in all its ugliness. It’s why the magates don’t want critical race theory taught, which in and of itself is reflecting their values. Giddens is great on the ‘jo but not real crazy about her voice. I do like how she represents politically.

        • Yes, my understanding of conservative politics is that they get people riled up about issues, eg critical race theory, vaccinations, abortions, trans bathrooms etc – then use that loyalty to benefit the 1% and keep power concentrated for a few.

    • It probably reflects the general segregation etc around at the time I guess – framing jazz in terms of its white stars seems like a weird approach nowadays.

      • Yea it was more than…
        I tried commenting on your Wed quiz post and it said Comments are closed. You probably know but I thought I wouild tell you.

        • Weird – I haven’t seen that before. I’ve just been trying to fix another commenting error. Let me know if it happens again.

  2. Another triump of race relations. Sure it was a different time, but no excuse. I happen to be reading a book called “History of Jazz” and it’s quite comprehensive. I just got to the Miles Davis Birth of the Cool period in the Fifties.

    • That sounds much better. I’ve been reading a book by Lenny Kaye, it’s pretty interesting so far – there was a great bit when Little Richard flung all his bling into Sydney harbour.

  3. The Duke piece is so good. He just lets the music take him. What a wonderful piece of music. Sets the mood then he swings. Man do I like that guy and what he does. It’s cool to see him step out. He usually let his band do the talking. One of my favorite piano players. Very cool that you chose an updated version of ‘Mood Indigo’
    It’s interesting to go back and look at things. There has been so much written about Jazz. I have read, watched , listened to so much of this genre over the years I never lose interest. I do more listening today than anything else. Nice piece Aph.

    • I don’t know that much jazz, especially outside fusion type stuff. I like Ellington though – I only have one album by him, Latin American Suite.

      • Like anything Aph, so much Jazz out there. Books , films so on. Just like other so called genres so many different styles. The history of jazz is so div erse that without the music it is very interesting.
        I remember you saying you had that Duke album. In his music alone there are so many different styles. To me it’s mostly all good. Enjoyed your piece.

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