About this Recording
8.559016 - CONFREY: Piano Music
English 

Zez Confrey (1895-1971) Piano Music

"Where Confrey - that bewildering bunch of piano technic and "raggy" rhythms, got 'Zez' for his first name is a puzzle - it should have been 'Zip' for that quality distinguishes this artist in syncopation and modern dance idioms. Confrey is a piano pupil of one of the great concert pianists of America and had a brilliant career in classical lines ahead of him but immediate and big success was offered him through his almost uncanny powers in modern dance composing and playing and he accepted the lure. Today Zez Confrey has earned the title of 'the People's Paderewski' and rightly, for in person or through his sparkling records he electrifies his audiences."

- Brunswick Records Catalogue 1922

Edward Elzear "Zez" Confrey was a musical phenomenon. Precocious, immensely talented, with an absolutely natural ability at the keyboard, he became a major celebrity after publishing in 1921 his evocative and rhythmicaIly intricate masterpiece, Kitten on the Keys. Two years later his recordings were available on both the Brunswick and Victor Records labels, as well as on many piano rolls.

Zez Confrey was born on April 3, 1895, in Peru, Illinois. He was the youngest of five children. His eldest brother, Jim played seven different musical instruments, including the piano. At four, Zez showed enormous ability when he picked out on the piano the same piece his eldest brother was studying. His parents recognized the budding talent and soon engaged a teacher to nurture Zez's musical gifts. He played in and conducted his own orchestra while attending high school. After graduation, he continued his musical education at the famous Chicago Musical College (which was run by the inimitable Florenz Ziegfeld, Sr.), where his teachers included Jesse Dunn and Frank Denhart. He was immersed in music from the Classics with the likes of Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, to the contemporary music of the French Impressionists, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel­ music that was considered cutting edge and controversial in the second decade of this century. During those heady years, Zez was making a living by playing the piano. In 1915 he formed an orchestra with his brother Jim and their group performed in many of the most important hotels and ballrooms. The recordings Zez made with this orchestra became "dance music" hits for the Victor Talking Machine Company.

During World War I, Zez Confrey joined the Navy and performed in a touring musical revue entitled, Leave It To Sailors. Zez, who played and acted on stage was joined by a violinist from Waukegan, IL. That accomplished violinist - Jack Benny - eventually became one of America's most beloved comedians and television personalities! After the war, Zez was engaged to record novelty piano works and arrangements for the QRS Piano Roll Company. From 1918 to 1924 Confrey recorded 127 rolls. From 1924 until 1927 he recorded another 44 piano rolls, this time, exclusively for the Ampico Corporation. The piano rolls led to recording engagements for the new Chicago company, Brunswick, Edison and Emerson. Fame and fortune recognized Confrey's gifts.

In 1921 Jack Mills (the founder of what today is known as Belwin Mills Publishing Corporation) offered Confrey a publishing contract. Kitten on the Keys, My Pet, Poor Buttermilk, Stumbling, Coaxing the Piano, Dumbell, Dizzy Fingers, and many other piano pieces came from Confrey's pen. In 1923 Confrey authored, what was to be a phenomenally successful book entitled Zez Confrey's Modern Course in Novelty Piano Playing. For over forty years it remained in print.

All this notoriety did not remain unnoticed. In 1924 Paul Whiteman was about to present a very special concert. He engaged Aeolian Hall, one of New York's finest concert facilities. Whiteman called his concert" An Experiment in Modern Music" and the date, February 12, 1924 was booked. The printed programs announced that Paul Whiteman and his Palais Royal Orchestra would be "assisted by Zez Confrey and George Gershwin." As history would mark it, Confrey received top billing on the program that introduced Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue! For his part, Confrey performed a medley of popular airs, followed by his innovative and comic Kitten on the Keys. He was followed by a foxtrot adaptation by Ferde Grofé of The Volga Boat Song (called "Russian Rose"), and closing the first half of the concert, three Irving Berlin tunes, including Alexander' s Ragtime Band. The audience cheered, particularly roaring their approval of the humor and inventiveness of Zez Confrey. The second half of the concert began with Victor Herbert's first work for jazz orchestra and concluded with Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue. The audience remained on the edge of their seats until the end of Gershwin's work. Thunderous applause reverberated from every corner of Aeolian Han. On that day, the lucky audience heard a new chapter to America's musical history, highlighted by Confrey's musical magic on the first half, and Gershwin's masterpiece on the second half. Whiteman's concert catapulted Gershwin's career, and seventy-five years later his music is still remembered and much loved. Although Confrey was very much a celebrity at that time, his star began to fade as Gershwin's was to rise.

Confrey turned more and more to composing for jazz bands after the 1920s. The 1930s and 1940s were the era of the "Big Band" and Confrey made a lasting contribution to both small ensembles and large orchestras. He retired from active composing after World War Il, although he sporadically continued to write music through 1959. He was a victim of Parkinson's disease and eventually died on November 22, 1971 in Lakewood, New Jersey. The legacy he left encompasses over one hundred piano works, miniature operas, popular songs, mood pieces, and simple children's music for beginners.

For her recording of Zez Confrey's piano miniatures, which was made a few days before the 100th anniversary of his birth, Ms. Eteri Andjaparidze has chosen twenty-four works, spanning the creative period 1921 to 1959. The earliest representative work on the disc is Kitten on the Key~. (1921). In the introduction to Zez Confrey's Modernistic Piano Solos the story behind the music is explained: " Concerning Kitten on the Keys, the composer tens an amusing story of its origin. Zez was staying at his grandmother's house over the weekend and after a quiet evening had retired to his room. Suddenly he was awakened by a strange series of sounds which seemed to be emanating from the old fashioned upright piano in the parlor. He went down to investigate and discovered -the house cat promenading back and forth across the keyboard. That incident was later developed into one of the most famous of an piano fantasies." Kitten on the Keys became an instant success for the composer, eventually selling over a million copies. Pianistically demanding and, at times, unorthodox, harmonically sophisticated and daring in its syncopation, the feline imagery in combination with the memorable melodic inventiveness, immediately won the heart of the public.

In 1922 Confrey composed Coaxing the Piano and Stumbling. Once again, the syncopation and melodic invention make both of these works irresistible. He demanded a brilliant, high-speed performance of Coaxing the Piano, and, as a resu1t, breaks away from the spirit of the dance-oriented moderate tempo of ragtime. originally a song rather than an instrumental piece, has its roots in traditional ragtime patterns. Confrey's piano paraphrase was much admired by Aaron Copland, who in 1927, in an article on jazz structure and influence, stated that this piece "typified the jazz age with its independent rhythm spread over more than one measure, over a series of measures..."

We hear traces of Grieg and MacDowell in Confrey's Three Little Oddities of 1923 Dizzy Fingers is a "speed demon" étude written for piano virtuosi. The African Suite of 1924 shows us Confrey at his most strangely alluring, with touches of Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin. Jay Walk (1927) shows us how dangerous it can be to cross the street, white Sparkling Waters (1928) is subtitled "Valse Brillante" and another of Confrey's classical piano tone poems. Moods Of A New Yorker (1932) shows a more contemplative side of Confrey. This is an urban meditation, a piano "snap-shot" of a by­gone era of Manhattan nightlife, chorus lines, martinis at dusk, and the excitement of a new Busby Berkeley showstopper. Blue Tornado (1935) is another of Confrey's musical landscapes where the pianist creates the violently whirling column of air. Rhythm Venture (1935) is a bouncy, experiment in syncopation, marked boldly by the composer "expressione" and "grandioso." Meandering (1936) is yet another of Confrey's "walking" pieces where we imagine the composer taking a stroll, hands in his pockets, whistling a memorable tune. Wise Cracker Suite (1936) is a humorous, descriptive cllection of three pieces -Yokel Opus paints a picture of a happy country bumpkin; Mighty Lackawanna is a piano portrait of the city in New York state, located overlooking Lake Erie, near Buffalo; and The Sheriffs Lament is a cartoon-like picture of cops and robbers. Amazonia (1945) is marked " In Rhumba Style" and was probably influenced by the explosion at that time in the United States of Latin American musical styles, bands and movies. Fourth Dimension (1959) is another of Confrey's virtuosic concert études, written in a classical style, demanding from the pianist light hand-over-hand keyboard pyrotechnics.

-Notes by Marina and Victor Ledin, @ 1998

Eteri Andjaparidze
Recipient of the highest national decoration, People's Artist of Georgia, Eteri Andjaparidze, is recognized as one of the most distinguished pianists today. She was born into a family of celebrated musicians in Thilisi, Republic of Georgia. Her father, Zurab Andjaparidze, was leading tenor with the Bolshoi Theatre. Her natural talents already early evident, Eteri received her first piano lessons from her mother, Yvette Bachtadze, an important pianist and teacher in ber own right, and at the age of five was enrolled in the Thilisi Special Music School for Gifted Children. By the age of nine, Eteri bad already debuted in solo recital and performed with the Georgian State Symphony Orchestra.

In 1972, Ms. Andjaparidze was awarded the First Prize at the Transcaucasian Contest in Baku, followed by the Fourth Prize in the 1974 Tchaikovsky International Competition in Moscow, where she was the youngest participant. That same year, she entered the

Moscow Tchaikovsky State Conservatory of Music for advanced piano studies under the guidance of Professor Vera Gornostayeva, a pupil of the legendary pianist and peda­gogue, Heinrich Neuhaus. In 1976, Ms. Andjaparidze became the first Soviet pianist to win the Grand Prix at the Montreal International Piano Competition.

Ms. Andjaparidze bas performed extensively throughout the world on major concert series and international festivals, in recitals and as a soloist with leading orchestras including St. Petersburg Philharmonic, Russian State Symphony, Moscow Virtuosi, Montreal Symphony and Monte-Carlo Philharmonic under the batons of such eminent conductors as Yuri Temirkanov, Valeri Gergiyev, Vladimir Spivakov, Franz-Paul Decker and James DePreist. She bas also collaborated in ensembles with su ch partners as Vladimir Feltsman, Sergei Leiferkus, Moscow Virtuosi Chamber Groups, and many oth­ers. In1985, she made a historic appearance with Beijing and Shanghai Philharmonic symphony orchestras as the first Soviet artist to tour China following the renewal of the cultural ex change. In 1991-1993, for three consecutive seasons, Ms. Andjaparidze pre­sented recital series in memory of Sergei Rachmaninoff at Steinway Hall in New York.

Portions of this immensely successful program were televised by NBC.

Deeply committed to teaching, Ms Andjaparidze has conducted numerous master classes during her worldwide concert engagements. For a decade between 1982-1992, she served as Professor of Piano at the State Conservatory of Music in her native country.

Since 1992, upon being granted permanent residency in the United States as an "outstanding artist", Ms. Andjaparidze has made her home in New York City.

That same year, her highly acclaimed orchestral debut in the United States was with the Oregon Symphony. In addition to her ongoing performing career, Ms. Andjaparidze continues to teach as an Affiliate Artist- Teacher at the Purchase Conservatory of Music, and on the faculty of the Piano Summer Festival-Institute at New Paltz, the State University of New York.


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