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Zez Confrey

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Biography

Edward Elzear "Zez" Confrey was born in Peru, IL, and began to play piano at the tender age of four. Maturing rapidly, Confrey was already leading his own dance band in high school. After graduation, Confrey undertook a course of study in serious music at the Chicago Musical College and there became enamored of the French Impressionists, whose "modernistic" sense of harmony would play a key role in his work as a composer and pianist. In 1915, Confrey took his first professional job as a music demonstrator in the Chicago office of Harry von Tilzer's company. After a stint in the U.S. Navy, Confrey joined the QRS piano roll company as a pianist and roll editor. Confrey would make nearly 200 piano rolls during his lifetime, mostly editing them himself. One of his first QRS rolls was an original number entitled My Pet. With this work, Confrey single-handedly ushered in the field of novelty ragtime, a style that took on structural features of French Impressionism and did not suffer amateur pianists gladly. In 1921, Confrey scored a huge hit with Kitten on the Keys, which sold over a million sheet music copies and made Confrey a household name in popular music. Also in 1921, Confrey also began to make phonograph records and by 1932, he had appeared on records made for Edison, Emerson, Brunswick, Victor, and HMV. On February 12, 1924, Confrey appeared as a soloist, billed above George Gershwin, in a few numbers at the historic Experiment in Modern Music concert in Aeolian Hall where Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue was premiered. Later that year, Confrey moved from QRS to the Aeolian company, but by the late '20s, Confrey's roll editing output began to slow down. He continued to compose and publish music until his retirement after World War II. Confrey's extensive output ultimately contained many character pieces for piano, pop songs, mini-operas, and teaching pieces. Despite the variety of the works Confrey undertook, it is as the King of Novelty Ragtime that his reputation is made. In addition to Kitten on the Keys, Confrey is also known for the popular song Stumbling (1921) and pieces such as You Tell 'Em Ivories (1921), Coaxing the Piano (1922), Dizzy Fingers (1923), and Nickel in the Slot (1923). Confrey wrote his last novelty rag, Giddy Ditty, in 1935.
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