Kazoo

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A metal kazoo with a 1 Euro coin for comparison: 23.25 mm (0.92 inch)
Examples of Kazoos

The kazoo is a musical instrument that adds a "buzzing" timbral quality to a player's voice when the player vocalizes into it. The kazoo is a type of mirliton, which is a membranophone, one of a class of instruments which modifies its player's voice by way of a vibrating membrane.

Playing[edit]

A kazoo player hums, rather than blows, into the instrument.[1] The oscillating air pressure of the hum makes the kazoo's membrane vibrate.[1] The resulting sound varies in pitch and loudness with the player's humming. Players can produce different sounds by singing specific syllables such as doo, who, rrrrr or brrrr into the kazoo.

History[edit]

Machines at the Kazoo Factory and Museum
Kazoo manufacturing steps

Similar hide-covered vibrating and voice-changing instruments have been used in Africa for hundreds of years often for various ceremonial purposes. A popular belief is that Alabama Vest, an African American in Macon, Georgia, was the one who invented kazoo around 1840. However, there was no documentation to support that claim. [2]

The first documented invention of kazoo was by an American inventor, Warren Herbert Frost,[2] who named his new musical instrument kazoo in his patent #270,543 issued on January 9, 1883. In the patent he says, "This instrument or toy, to which I propose to give the name "kazoo"..."[3] The shape of the kazoo at the time does not look like the kazoos as we know today. The modern, submarine-shaped kazoo, which was also the first metal kazoo, was patented by George D. Smith of Buffalo, New York, May 27, 1902.[2][4]

In 1916, the Original American Kazoo Company in Eden, New York started manufacturing kazoos for the masses in a two-room shop and factory. The manufacturing process involved cutting, bending, and crimping metal sheets by a couple of dozen jack presses which were continued to be used for many decades. After 1985, the machines were retrofitted with safety devices as per Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but the manufacturing process remained the same. By 1994, the company produced 1.5 million kazoos per year and became the only manufacturer of metal kazoos in North America.[5][6] The factory in its almost original setup, now called The Kazoo Factory and Museum, is still operating and it is open to the public for a visit.[2]

In 2010, The Kazoo Museum opened in Beaufort, South Carolina, with exhibits on kazoo history.[7]

Professional usage[edit]


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The kazoo is played professionally in jug bands and comedy music, and by amateurs everywhere. It is among the acoustic instruments developed in the United States, and one of the easiest melodic instruments to play well—requiring only the ability to vocalize in tune.[2] In North East England and South Wales, kazoos play an important role in juvenile jazz bands. During Carnival, players use kazoos in the Carnival of Cádiz in Spain and the Murga in Uruguay.

National Youth Administration: "rhythm band" plays in Sandwich, Illinois, 1936

In the Original Dixieland Jass Band 1921 recording of Crazy Blues, what the casual listener might mistake for a trombone solo is actually a kazoo solo[2] by drummer Tony Sbarbaro or Red McKenzie as in their performance video of 1929.[8] The Mound City Blue Blowers had a number of hit kazoo records in the early 1920s. The Mound City Blue Blowers featured Dick Slevin on metal kazoo and Red McKenzie on comb-and-tissue-paper, although he also played metal kazoo. The vocaphone, a kind of kazoo with a trombone-like tone, occasionally featured in Paul Whiteman's Orchestra.[9] Trombonist-vocalist Jack Fulton played it on Whiteman's recording of Vilia (1931) and Frankie Trumbauer's Medley of Isham Jones Dance Hits (1932). The Mills Brothers vocal group originally started in vaudeville as a kazoo quartet, playing four-part harmony on kazoo with one brother accompanying them on guitar.[10]

The kazoo is rare in European classical music, but it does appear in David Bedford's With 100 Kazoos, a piece that emphasizes the instrument's simplicity. Rather than professionals playing the instrument, kazoos are handed out to the audience, who accompany a professional instrumental ensemble.[2] Leonard Bernstein included a segment for kazoo ensemble in the First Introit (Rondo) of his mass. The kazoo was used in the 1990 Koch International and 2007 Naxos Records recordings of American classical composer Charles Ives' Yale-Princeton Football Game, where the kazoo chorus represents the football crowd's cheering. The brief passages have the kazoo chorus sliding up and down the scale as the cheering rises and falls.

Frank Loesser's score for the 1961 Broadway musical comedy How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying uses kazoo. Several kazoos produce the sound effect of electric razors used in the executive washroom during a dance reprise of the ballad I Believe in You.

Jesse Fuller's 1962 recording of his song San Francisco Bay Blues features a kazoo solo,[11] as does Eric Clapton's 1992 recording of the song on MTV's Unplugged television show and album. Many Paolo Conte performances include passages played on the kazoo.

Short kazoo performances appear on many modern recordings, usually for comic effect. For example, in Frank Zappa's first album, Freak Out!, he used the kazoo to add comic feel to some songs[2] — including one of his best known, Hungry Freaks, Daddy. In the song Crosstown Traffic, from the album Electric Ladyland, Jimi Hendrix used a comb-and-paper instrument to accompany the guitar and accentuate a blown-out speaker sound.[2][12] The song Lovely Rita, from the the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, uses combs-and-paper instruments.[2][13] Kazoo playing parodied the sound of a military brass band in the Pink Floyd song, Corporal Clegg.[14] Both Freddie Mercury and Roger Taylor play kazoos in Seaside Rendezvous, a pastiche of 1920s jazz, on Queen's 1975 album A Night At The Opera.

In the McGuinness Flint recording When I'm Dead and Gone, Benny Gallagher and Graham Lyle play kazoos in harmony during the instrumental break. The New Seekers' live track (Ever Since You Told Me That You Loved Me) I'm A Nut features a kazoo solo by singer Eve Graham. British singer-songwriter Ray Dorset, the leader of pop-blues band Mungo Jerry, played the kazoo on many of his band's recordings, as did former member Paul King.

One of the best known kazooists of recent times is Barbara Stewart (1941–2011).[2] She was a classically trained singer who wrote a book on the kazoo, formed the "quartet" Kazoophony, performed at Carnegie Hall, and appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.[2][15] On occasion, the steampunk band Steam Powered Giraffe has been known to have audience members play kazoo at concerts. They also sell Kazookaphones, a standard kazoo with optional bugle horn and phonograph.

The kazoo is used habitually on the radio show I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue and kazoos are given to all audience members on show tours.

The video game Yoshi's New Island, which was released in 2014, has synthesized kazoos in several tracks of the soundtrack.

Records[edit]

On March 14, 2011, the audience at BBC Radio 3's Red Nose Show at the Royal Albert Hall along with a star-studded kazoo band set a new Guinness World Record title for the Largest Kazoo Ensemble. 3,910 kazooists played Wagner's Ride of the Valkyries and the Dambusters March at the Royal Albert Hall.[16] This surpassed previous record of 3,861 players, set in Sydney, Australia in 2009.[17] The current record of 5,190 was set later the same night in a second attempt.[16]

On August 9, 2010 The San Francisco Giants hosted a Jerry Garcia tribute night, in which an ensemble of up to 9,000 kazoo players played Take Me Out to the Ballgame.[18]

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b How to Play Kazoo, Kazoos.com, 2013, accessed July 12, 2013
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Harness, Jill, Great Moments In Kazoo History, Mental Floss, January 28, 2012, accessed July 12, 2013
  3. ^ Kazoo Patent, U.S. Patent Office, Washington, D.C., accessed July 12, 2013
  4. ^ Smith's Kazoo Patent, U.S. Patent Office, Washington, D.C., accessed July 12, 2013
  5. ^ Allen, Frederick (Winter 1994). "The Kazoo Monopoly". American Heritage of Invention & Technology 9 (3). Retrieved 18 August 2014. 
  6. ^ Wolk, Bruce H. (2009). Made here, baby! the essential guide to finding the best American-made products for your kids. New York: American Management Association. p. 258. ISBN 9780814413890. Retrieved 18 August 2014. 
  7. ^ Meredith Jordan (October 7, 2010). "Kazoo factory tunes in to Beaufort County". Bluffton Today. Retrieved October 26, 2010. 
  8. ^ Mound City Blue Blowers "St. Louis Blues" 1929, performance video 1929, accessed July 12, 2013
  9. ^ Don Rayno (19 December 2012). Paul Whiteman: Pioneer in American Music, 1930-1967. Scarecrow Press. pp. 608–. ISBN 978-0-8108-8322-2. Retrieved 12 July 2013. 
  10. ^ The Mills Brothers - Inductees, Vocal Group Hall of Fame, accessed July 12, 2013
  11. ^ Peter Siegel, liner notes to Friends of Old Time Music (Smithsonian Folkways, SFW40160) Media.smithsonianglobalsound.org
  12. ^ Crosstown Traffic by Jimi Hendrix, Songfacts, 2013, accessed July 12, 2013
  13. ^ Lewisohn, Mark (1988). The Beatles Recording Sessions. New York: Harmony Books. ISBN 0-517-57066-1. 
  14. ^ Corporal Clegg by Pink Floyd, Songfacts, 2013, accessed July 12, 2013
  15. ^ Barbara Stewart (2006). The Complete How to Kazoo [With Kazoo]. Workman Publishing Company. ISBN 978-0-7611-4221-8. Retrieved July 12, 2013. 
  16. ^ a b Largest Kazoo Ensemble, Guinness World Records, 2013, accessed July 12, 2013
  17. ^ BBC Radio 3's Red Nose Show breaks Guinness World Records title for largest ever kazoo ensemble, Big Red Nose Show, March 15, 2011, accessed July 12, 2013
  18. ^ Joe Kukura (August 2010). "Giants Fans' Kazoos Create World Record Buzz". NBC Bay Area. NBC Universal, Inc. Retrieved 2010-08-14. 

Additional reading[edit]

External links[edit]