Do You Kazoo?

Photo by:  Fulla T

Photo by: Fulla T

The kazoo is a musical instrument that dates back to the 1840s.  It was invented by Alabama Vest, a former slave, and introduced at the 1852 George State Fair.  It quickly became popular.

The kazoo is only one of three instruments native to the United States.  The other two:  the banjo and the glass armonica. If you’re not familiar with the later, imagine rubbing a wet finger around the rim of a bottle or glass.  You’ll get the idea.

Most of us think of the kazoo as a noisemaker, an annoying souvenir or toy handed out a birthday parties because even youngsters can play it.  But it is much more than that.  Accomplished musicians can produce more than forty sounds on the instrument.

A kazoo can be made of metal, wood, or plastic.  A wax-paper membrane sits in a small hole atop the instrument, which vibrates when the player hums into the larger end of the instrument.  Different sizes produce different sounds, so does partially covering up the membrane or singing a variety of syllables such doo, who, rrrr, or brrr into the kazoo.

Frank Zappa used a kazoo on his first album, Freak Out!  Jimi Hendrix used one to simulate a blown-out speaker in his song “Crosstown Traffic.” You can hear the kazoo in the Beatles’ song, “Lovely Rita,” and in Pink Floyd’s “Corporal Clegg” in which they parodied a military brass band.

In a Jerry Garcia tribute night at the home of the San Francisco Giants in 2010, 9,000 kazoo players performed “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.”  Or they tried to.  What a racket.  And, oh, so much fun.

Come join the band. January 28th is National Kazoo Day.   If that’s not enough reason to celebrate, it’s also National Blueberry Pancake Day.

Just remember: Don’t blow.  Hum.

© 2013 Susan Marg – All Rights Reserved