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The kazoo is a simple musical instrument ( membranophone) that adds a "buzzing" timbral quality to a player's voice when one hums into it. The kazoo is a type of mirliton - a device which modifies the sound of a person's voice by way of a vibrating membrane. The membranophone label is a key element in the kazoo being called a musical instrument. Kazoos are often used by children because they are simple to use. For example, near Forlì, Italy, there exists a sort of mirliton made and used by children. It is obtained by combining a common reed (Arundo Donax) and an improperly named "ocarina" ( Fabio Lombardi's field research). A kazoo of sorts can also be made by combining a comb and tissue paper or wax paper.
While humming is the term typically used to describe the technique required to play a kazoo, a more accurate term would be singing into the kazoo. Humming with your lips closed around the mouthpiece of the kazoo will not change the sound - you must vocalize or "sing" in order for the kazoo to make any sound. Many people will struggle with getting any sound from a kazoo when instructed to hum. But when instructed to speak "do, do, do..." into the kazoo mouthpiece, the 'hard' vocalization makes a more effective sound.
Such instruments have been used in Africa for hundreds of years, to disguise the sound of somebody's voice or to imitate animals, often for various ceremonial purposes. It was on such an instrument that the kazoo, invented by an African American named Alabama Vest in the 19th century in Macon, Georgia, is based. The first kazoo was manufactured to Vest's specifications by Thaddeus von Clegg, a German clockmaker in Macon. The kazoo was first publicized at the Georgia State Fair in 1852. On December 31, 2006 at 11:40 p.m. the Guinness world record for the world's largest kazoo ensemble was broken with a new record of 2,679 participants in Rochester, New York on the Main Street Bridge. On Thursday, September 27, 2007, Macon, Georgia went for the world record for the world's largest kazoo emsemble but sadly wasn't achieved when there was only an unofficial 2,007 people attending the event. On Saturday, November 17th, 2007, spectators at the Bob Jones University Turkey Bowl broke the Guinness world record for the world's largest kazoo ensemble with an unofficial 3,800 members, all buzzing to the tune of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" for over five minutes.
The first metal kazoos were manufactured and patented in Eden, New York, where they are still made in the original factory.
The kazoo is played professionally in jug bands and comedy music, and by amateurs everywhere. It is one of the few acoustic instruments to be developed in the United States and one of the easiest melodic instruments to play well, requiring only the ability to hum in tune. In North East England and South Wales, kazoos play an important role in so-called jazz bands (really children's marching bands).
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. 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 kazoo. The vocaphone, a kind of kazoo with a trombone-like tone, was 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 kazoo is not often found in European classical music, a rare exception being David Bedford's With 100 Kazoos, a piece which emphasizes the simplicity of the instrument - rather than being played by trained musicians, kazoos are handed out to members of the audience, who accompany a professional instrumental ensemble.
One of the best known kazooists in recent times might be Barbara Stewart. She was a classically trained singer who has written a book on the kazoo , formed the "quartet" Kazoophony, and performed at Carnegie Hall. She recently appeared on Late Night with Conan O'Brien.
Jimi Hendrix famously played a kazoo part on the song " Crosstown Traffic" from his 1968 album Electric Ladyland. He used a hastily constructed comb and waxed paper setup (often mistaken for a peculiarly buzzy guitar tone), as it was the only way to achieve the sound he was looking for.
Another well known modern band to use the kazoo is The Cure who sometimes use it in acoustic sessions, perhaps most famously in their song " The Walk" for MTV Unplugged.
The instrument also features prominently in the game of " Swanee-Kazoo" in the long-running British radio panel game, I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue and also in the song "Over and Over" by Hot Chip in their album Warning.
In Ireland, the Gomez family have been known to play traditional Irish tunes, such as Spancil Hill on the instrument.
Jason Dunn, from the Canadian punk rock Band Hawk Nelson, is a self proclaimed kazoo expert, revealing in Winter Jam that he practiced for "several weeks." He features a "Kazoo Solo" in the song "Hello" in their second album Smile, It's the End of the World.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers cover of the Ohio Players song Love Rollercoaster uses a kazoo in the verse.
Weird Al Yankovic uses kazoo on several of his parodies, most notable is replacing the guitar solo on " Smells Like Nirvana" with kazoos and the end of " Headline News" with kazoos.
The kazoo was used in the musical interlude of "Johnny Get Angry," a top ten hit for Joanie Sommers in 1962.
Pink Floyd used kazoos in the songs " Corporal Clegg" and " Jugband Blues" from the album A Saucerful of Secrets.
The Kinks incorporated the kazoo into the song "She's Bought a Hat Like Princess Marina" on their album Arthur (Or the Decline and Fall of the British Empire).
The Spinto Band use the kazoo in the intro to the song 'Brown Boxes' from the album ' Nice and Nicely Done'.
Sparky's Flaw use the kazoo to give a more "fun" feel to the song "Indie Rocker" on their "One Small Step EP."
The Killers used the kazoo for their song 'Bling' from the album Sam's Town, the kazoo in this case was used by guitarist Dave Keuning's cousin Allister Edmends.
Blind Melon features the usage of a kazoo in the intro to the song 'Skinned', from the album Soup. It is played by their then frontman, the late Shannon Hoon.
I'm From Barcelona is a Swedish pop act. There are 29 members and their music mixes instruments such as kazoos, clarinets, saxophones, flutes, trumpets, banjos, accordions, guitars, drums and keyboards among others. During live shows fans who have brought their kazoos are sometimes invited on stage to join in in the kazoo playing.
The first act finale of John Corigliano's opera The Ghosts of Versailles features a troop of marching kazoo players.
The kazoo is also one of the main instruments used by players in groups of the Carnival of Cádiz.
The game Zak McKracken prominently features a kazoo, essential for solving one puzzle and useful for others.
The game Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles uses the kazoo often throughout it, such as Veo Lu Sluice (Promised Grace), Moschet Manor (Magii is Everything), or the theme of Raem, Sad Monster.
Willie Kimberson's Concerto for Kazoo and Strings (2004) is heralded as one of the most popular new works for kazoo. It was commissioned by kazoo virtuoso Herindinickidish Berschmerkes for the annual kazoo and steel drum festival at Baniff Music Festival.
The Kazoo Funk Orchestra use Kazoos in many tracks but aren't limited to them, they blend with guitars and the usual band related instruments.
Creedence Clearwater Revival mentions the kazoo in the song Down on the Corner from the album Willy and the Poorboys.