18 June 2015


Gus Kahn
Having written recently about the great, though brief, song-writing partnership of Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, it occurred to me that we traditional jazz lovers are also deeply indebted to the lyricist Gus Kahn for many of the songs in our standard repertoire.

In his main partnership with the composer Walter Donaldson, Kahn gave us such songs as:

My Baby Just Cares For Me
That Certain Party
Making Whoopee
Carolina in the Morning
Love Me or Leave Me
I Never Knew That Roses Grew
Yes, Sir, That's My Baby
I Wonder Where My Baby is Tonight

In fact, Kahn wrote over 100 songs with his friend Walter Donaldson.

But Kahn also wrote (with Isham Jones):

I'll See You in My Dreams


It Had to be You

And with Egbert Von Alstyne he gave us:
Pretty Baby
On the Road to Home Sweet Home
It Looks Like a Big Time Tonight

With other collaborators he wrote:
Crazy Rhythm
Toot Toot Tootsie
Ukulele Lady
Ain't We Got Fun
Side by Side
On the Alamo
Nobody's Sweetheart Now
You Stepped Out of a Dream
Dream a Little Dream of Me

What a man!  You can't attend traditional jazz concerts without frequently hearing songs with lyrics by Kahn.

So who was Gus?

Like so many of the people involved in American popular music in the first half of the Twentieth Century, he came from a family of immigrants. Gustav Kahn was born in Koblenz, Germany, in 1886 but his family had gone to seek their fortune in the USA by the time he was four. They lived in Chicago. After working in a mail order business, Gus became successful in his mid-twenties at writing lyrics and soon had hits with Memories and Pretty Baby.

Taking on the career full-time, Gus wrote for stage revues and Hollywood movies, collaborating at various times with pretty well all the contemporary big names in American popular music. Sadly, he died following a heart attack at the age of only 54.