John Harold Kander (born March 18, 1927) is an American composer of a number of musicals as part of the songwriting team of Kander and Ebb, whose best-known stage musicals as composer are Cabaret and Chicago, both of which were later adapted into films. Kander was born on March 18, 1927 in Kansas City, MO. His father, Harold S. Kander, worked in his father-in-law’s egg and poultry business, while instilling a love of life and a healthy interest in the arts in John and his brother, Edward. Kander’s parents regularly brought their two sons to local theater and orchestra concerts, and every year treated them to a trip to New York City to see theater. Kander attended his first opera performances at the age of nine, when the San Carlo Opera came to Kansas City with their productions of Aida and Madama Butterfly. Kander was raised in Kansas City, and attended Westport High School, before transferring to the Pembroke Country-Day School.
During the 1940s, Kander joined the United States Merchant Marine Cadet Corps. After completing his training in California and sailing between San Francisco and Asia, Kander left the Corps on May 3, 1946. However, due to rule changes governing national service, he was forced to enlist in the Army Reserves in September of the same year, after having already completed one semester at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. During the Korean War, Kander was ordered back into active duty, but he was forced to remain in New York City for six months of observation after a medical physical revealed scars on his lungs. He was officially discharged on July 3, 1957.
Kander studied music at Oberlin College and Columbia University, where he was a protégé of Douglas Moore and studied composition with Jack Beeson and Otto Luening. He received his master’s degree from Columbia University in 1953. Following his studies, John Kander began conducting at summer theaters before serving as a rehearsal pianist for the musical West Side Story by Robert Wise and Jerome Robbins in New York. While working, Kander met the choreographer, Jerome Robbins, who suggested that Kander compose the dance music for the show in 1959. After that experience, he wrote dance arrangements for Irma la Douce in 1960.
Kander’s first produced musical was A Family Affair in 1962, written with James and William Goldman. The same year, Kander met Fred Ebb through their mutual publisher, Tommy Volando. The first song Kander and Ebb wrote together, “My Coloring Book,” was made popular by a recording from Sandy Stewart and their second song, “I Don’t Care Much,” was made famous by Barbra Streisand and made Kander and Ebb a permanent team. In 1965, Kander and Ebb landed their first show on Broadway, Flora the Red Menace, produced by Hal Prince, directed by George Abbott, and with book by George Abbott and Robert Russell, in which Liza Minnelli made her Broadway debut. Kander and Ebb have since been associated with writing material for both Liza Minnelli and Chita Rivera, and have produced special material for their appearances live and on television. The musicals Cabaret and Chicago have been made into films; the film version of Chicago won the 2002 Academy Award for Best Picture.
Kander, along with Ebb, also wrote songs for Thornton Wilder’s The Skin of Our Teeth, and it was set to premiere in London, but the rights were pulled by Wilder’s nephew. His first musical without Fred Ebb in many years, The Landing, with book and lyrics by Greg Pierce, premiered Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre on October 23, 2013. The musical, which was a series of three “mini-musicals” was directed by Walter Bobbie and starred David Hyde Pierce and Julia Murney. Kander’s musical, Kid Victory, with book and lyrics by Greg Pierce, had its world premiere February 28, 2015 at the Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA. Kid Victory premiered Off-Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre on February 1, 2017 in previews, and opened officially on February 22, 2017. Direction is by Liesl Tommy with choreography by Christopher Windom. The cast features Jeffry Denman and Karen Ziemba.
My collection includes the following work by John Kander:
Cabaret (1966): Cabaret (title song).