The career of Edward Elzear ‘Zez’ Confrey (1895–1971) had vague parallels with that of Billy Mayerl, albeit in the States rather than the United Kingdom. He was born in Illinois, the youngest of five children. At the age of four he was able to copy his eldest brother Jim’s piano playing by ear, and while still at school he played in and directed his own orchestra. He undertook classical music studies at the Chicago Musical College and when he was twenty he and Jim formed an orchestra, which recorded dance music hits for the Victor Talking Machine Company. During World War I he joined the navy and toured in a musical revue called Leave it to sailors, both playing and acting alongside a talented violinist—none other than the later television personality Jack Benny. After the war Confrey recorded piano novelties for the QRS Piano Roll Company and later for Ampico—171 rolls between 1918 and 1927. These led to recordings for companies like Brunswick, Edison and Emerson, and a music publishing contract. In 1924 Confrey was the first-half drawcard for the concert that introduced George Gerswhin’s Rhapsody in Blue
—An Experiment in Modern Music
with Paul Whiteman’s Palais Royal Orchestra. In the ’30s and ’40s Confrey composed more and more for jazz big bands, but largely retired from composition after the second World War. When he died from Parkinson’s disease in 1971 he left over a hundred piano solos, plus songs, miniature operas, simple beginners’ music and his 1923 book Zez Confrey’s Modern Course in Novelty Piano Playing
, which had been continually in print for forty years. His first hit was Kitten on the Keys
(1921), but Dizzy Fingers
(1923), a cleverly written étude with enough rhythmic quirkiness to keep things interesting, has always come a close second in popularity.
from notes by Piers Lane © 2013