Gershwin American In Paris Taxi Horns

I’ve been trying to put a set of Gershwin’s ‘American In Paris’ (1929) taxi horns together. I’ve been doing a lot of experimenting with tuning the reeds. What I really need to be doing is making my own. At some point I will. In the meantime this is about as far as I’ve been able to get so far. Some of the reeds in the video have been manipulated by sliding a zip tie down the length of the reed. Problem there is each reed will only take so much manipulation before it stops vibrating. I’ve seen things like the tuning change a bit from one day to the next… Weather? Zip tie expanding? Not quite ready for a mission-critical performance. But maybe perfect for your high school orchestra! If you’re willing to work with me, and not be too fussy over the exact pitches, I can put a set together for you. $200 + shipping. Contact me john@squeezehorns.com to discuss. This would be without mounting hardware, horns only. If you’d need them mounted we could discuss that as well I have some carpenter friends who are very handy. (Larger version video here.)

Tuning a horn. It’s an art not a science (yet).

I thought to include this video for comparison. The pitches in this performance don’t correspond to either of the versions we’re used to, but in the end it’s more about the effect. I don’t know, but my sense is that that is what George was going for in the first place. (An American In Paris Percussion Frank Lao)

Taxi Horns

Well known for its use in Gershwin’s ‘An American in Paris’, I realized today I had no idea what in fact a  ‘taxi horn’ was! If you Google it you’ll just get references to Gershwin, especially since the discovery that ‘we were doing it wrong’. (See my post here.) Consider that the horns Gershwin used were NOT what you’d typically find installed on an automobile by the manufacturer. (See vintage auto ‘bulb horns’, including many from French manufacturers here.) So what were they?

I turned to Google Books, sorted by date,  and looked for references to ‘taxi horns’ from the early 1900s. Gershwin wrote ‘An American in Paris’ in 1928, and the thinking behind using taxi horns in the composition was to evoke the ambience of Paris.

Here’s what I think… In the 1920s, taxi drivers, especially in France, would sound a ‘taxi horn’ when arriving to pick up their fare.


The ‘rattle of wheels’ sounds to me like it could be a carriage.
The Man Thou Gavest
By Harriet Theresa Comstock · 1917


Theatre Magazine Volume 36
Published: 1922
Publisher: Theatre Magazine Company




About now (1940) the term is becoming ambiguous. This could certainly be a taxi’s horn, rather than a ‘taxi horn’.


But maybe you know better, or have something to add. Feel free to leave us a comment. Thanks!