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.
A kazoo player hums, rather than blows, into the instrument. The oscillating air pressure of the hum makes the kazoo's membrane vibrate. 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.
Warren Herbert Frost, the American inventor of the first recognizable kazoo, named his new musical instrumentkazoo 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"..."
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. 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.
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 by drummer Tony Sbarbaro or Red McKenzie as in their performance video of 1929. 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. 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.
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. 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, 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 — 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. The song Lovely Rita, from the the Beatles album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, uses combs-and-paper instruments. Kazoo playing parodied the sound of a military brass band in the Pink Floyd song, Corporal Clegg. 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). 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. 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, released in 2014, has synthesized kazoo in several tracks of the soundtrack.
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. This surpassed previous record of 3,861 players, set in Sydney, Australia in 2009. The current record of 5,190 was set later the same night in a second attempt.
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- Fabio Lombardi (1989). I suoni perduti: mostra di strumenti musicali popolari romagnoli, Teatro Comunale G.A. Dragoni, 26-29 agosto 1989 : raccolti da Fabio Lombardi nella vallata del Bidente, Comuni di. Centro stampa provincia. Retrieved 12 July 2013.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Kazoo.|
- Kazooco, kazoo museum and historic manufacturer
- "This is a kazoo!" Captain Kazoo: The world's largest private kazoo collection. More history, including details on the mirliton.
- The Kazoo Museum, website of the Beaufort, South Caroline kazoo museum
- Miss G and her Blues Kazoo, Woodstock Wooden Kazoo in Woodstock, New York
- Doc Kazoo and his Wooden Folk Kazoo, in Lake Seneca, Florida
- The Association of American Kazoologists, Information, including history, design and construction, of the kazoo