Written by Wally Amos
I recently ran across a photo of myself in 1986 in Japan opening a store with a kazoo salute. I look pretty good in that picture. Not so much grey hair. But the kazoo is disappointing. Just a standard old metal kazoo. Now I’ve moved up to a hand-made wooden kazoo layered in bright colors.
I am virtually never without my kazoo. I wear it on a ribbon around my neck so as to always be ready to announce my presence, cheer a child or just amuse myself. In my baking, I consider my kazoo-playing an important “secret ingredient” to the process, second only to the love I put in everything I make.
It is often said that the kazoo’s closest relative is the African horn-mirliton, with a tube made from the horn of a cow and a membrane consisting of the egg-shells of spiders. Horn-mirlitons were used by witch doctors as far back as tribal history can trace. There are also pretty substantial rumors that place Roman military kazoo bands leading Caesar’s legions against the Celtic hordes of Vercingetorix in 52 BC. Pretty impressive history for such a modest instrument.
I’ve used kazoos not only in Japan but all over. In 1972 I celebrated my birthday in Winter Park, Florida, by visiting the children’s ward at the local hospital for a one-man kazoo concert. In 1976, on a promotional tour in Tucson, Arizona, I ducked into a Farrell’s Ice Cream Parlor and recruited some of their employees to play kazoos in an impromptu marching band announcing the arrival of a freshly made cookie which was carried on a satin pillow through the mall to a local department store.
In 2009, I was Grand Marshal of the 4th of July Parade in Kailua, Hawai‘i, complete with a Kazoo Band. In 2010, I “kazooed” in Malaysia. And last week, at a private dinner in the home of some friends, I quietly slipped away to their kitchen to whip up a batch of cookies for dessert, announcing their exit from the oven with a rousing kazoo fanfare.
The kazoo is not often found in classical music, a rare exception being David Bedford‘s “With 100 Kazoos.” Rather than being played by trained musicians, kazoos are handed out to members of the audience, who accompany a professional instrumental ensemble.
I feel I have been training all my life and can’t wait to attend a performance! It makes me smile just thinking about it.