Gee, that was some punk blue-blowing by Mr. Kweskin on this version of "Borneo." Not only couldn't he find any good notes, his rhythm was repetitious and trite. Such playing would be intolerable on a trumpet, a saxophone, a violin or a piano. Why do we give it a pass here?
The comb-and-tissue is member of the "scorned" instruments family, which also includes kazoo, slide whistle, penny whistle, washboard, gut-bucket (i.e, one-string washtub bass), jug and many others. It is taken for granted that such instruments take no talent to play, and therefore they are played only by people with no talent. We entertain high hopes when someone raises a trumpet to his lips; we have no hope at all when the instrument is a kazoo.
Of course this is wrong. A comb-and-tissue is able to accept as much talent as can be put into it. Red McKenzie made astonishing music with his. On record after record, he regularly went toe-to-toe with musicians like Eddie Lang, Jack Teagarden, Pee Wee Russell, Muggsy Spanier, even Coleman Hawkins - and did not come off second-best.
I take note of some outstanding practitioners of the scorned axes: Ed Bell, the kazoo player on the 1931 State Street Ramblers Gennett sides, who makes you think he's playing a trumpet; Les Leiber, the pennywhistle whiz who tears up "Nobody's Sweetheart" on the 1937 "Saturday Night Swing Club" first anniversary broadcast; Baby Dodds on just a washboard with the Chicago Footwarmers on OKeh in 1927/'28; Earl McDonald's resounding jug playing with the Dixieland Jug Blowers on Victor in 1926/'27. This all is some SERIOUS, heavyweight music making, raising these instruments to a temporary dignity that would be hard to conceive if it wasn't right before our ears.
The slide whistle has had its moments. Louis Armstrong plays it beautifully on some early OKeh sides with King Oliver and with his own Hot Five. "Hezzy," of Hoosier Hot Shots Fame, made a whole career out of his, though he pushed no musical boundaries. The slide whistle still awaits the advent of a real artist, who could elevate it to the level Larry Adler took the harmonica (Adler made that instrument so legit that it had to be re-named the "mouth organ" when he played it). In the last decade or so, the oft-scorned ukelele has gone totally upscale, carried by a swarm of virtuosi led by the fantastic Jake Shimabukuro.
I shouldn't be too hard on Jim Kweskin, who probably has learned a thing or two since 1963. But speaking as a dedicated kazooist, I insist that neither the cheapness of an instrument nor the lowness of its threshhold of instant gratification should stop anyone from aspiring to greatness with it.