"We all know and stand in awe of Confrey's unique gift for creating unusual novelty rags, so perhaps it should come as no surprise that his performances hit the same high standard, filled with zest, hitting juicy just-right tempos, executing the toughest stuff with ease, consistently supplying everything you could ask for and more" (The Ragtimer)
The flashy, syncopated compositions of Zez (Edward Elzear) Confrey (1895-1971) perfectly capture the spirit of the 1920s. His biggest hits were Kitten on the Keys and Stumbling, both of which appeared in the early 1920s. In 1924, Zez took part in the legendary concert in New York’s Aeolian Hall at which George Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue was premiered.
Zez Confrey was born in Illinois and studied at the Chicago Musical College where he loved the music of Debussy and Ravel and also immersed himself in the popular songs and piano rags of the day.
In the booklet note Jeff Taylor writes, “The pieces on this CD show the breadth of Confrey’s talent and include popular songs by both Confrey and other composers, parlor pieces in the vein of Edvard Grieg and Eastwood Lane, good-natured parodies of classical music and a variety of Confrey’s so-called novelty piano works. In this latter category, of which Kitten on the Keys is the most famous example, distinctive features of ragtime are wedded to a
dazzling (but carefully planned) pianistic virtuosity and hints of impressionistic harmony.
“Perhaps equally important to this repertory is the medium for which much of it was arranged. Although player pianos and piano rolls were a fixture in American popular music through the early 1930s, they have received little musicological attention. Because of the inability of most player pianos to reproduce subtleties of touch and dynamics their sound can be tediously monochromatic. In addition, they have, with good reason, been viewed with suspicion as documentation of an artist's performing style. Yet these criticisms show the failure of both scholars and listeners to recognize in playing, composing and arranging for the instrument a unique and utterly American art form that must be approached on its own terms. As the recordings here show, Confrey was perhaps the greatest master of piano roll arrangement. His rolls were made ostensibly to sell sheet music, and tend to maintain a clear identity of a tune's melody and structure, but because he achieved such commercial success in the roll industry he was allowed by his employers to bring his idiom to unprecedented heights of imagination and detail. Still, though completely idiomatic to the piano, even when transcribed they cannot be accurately reproduced by a human performer. Not only do they incorporate techniques that are physically unplayable, but they rely on Confrey's brilliant marriage of the instrument's mechanistic properties with his own instinctive musicality.
These recordings wed early 20th-century technology with the 21st-century innovations of the Yamaha Disklavier, and include several pieces that the pianist composed but did not arrange for the roll medium.”
These pieces are hand played by the noted pianist and music historian Artis Wodehouse.