Zez Confrey


By David A. Jasen

Express To The Midi Links

Zez Confrey was born Edward Elzear Confrey on April 3, 1895 in a modest little house in Peru, Illinois. He died November 22, 1971 in his beautiful home in Lakewood, New Jersey. The composer of over one hundred songs and instrumental pieces, Zez Confrey will always be especially remembered for his outstanding novelty ragtime hit, "KITTEN ON THE KEYS."

Zez was the youngest of five children born to Thomas J. and Margaret Brown Confrey. When Zez was four, his eldest brother Jim (who played seven instruments) was taking piano lessons, and after one of the lessons, Zez toddled over to the piano and picked out the same piece Jim was being taught. Lessons for precocious Zez began soon after!

While attending LaSalle-Peru High School, Zez played in and conducted his own orchestra. After graduation, he studied at the famous Chicago Musical College with Jesse Dunn and Frank Denhart. His thorough training in the classics introduced him to the contemporary music of the French Impressionists, Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. These composers had a profound influence on Zez, which his compositions were to reflect.

Zez's first pieces were songs ("ON THE BANKS OF DEAR OLD ILLINOIS"), one-steps ("OVER THE TOP") and a revolutionary rag, "MY PET," which combined impressionistic harmonies with the rhythmic complexities of piano roll arrangements in a ragtime format. Zez successfully realized with "MY PET" what Scott Joplin had achieved nineteen years earlier with "MAPLE LEAF RAG." His innovative use of diverse elements was as startling and original as Joplin's creation of a kind of music with an organized and deliberate format utilizing extended syncopations with an even, steady rhythm. These permutations were to change the course of ragtime for the entire 1920's.

During the years he attended Chicago Music College (which was run by Florenz Ziegfeld, Sr.), Zez made his living by playing piano with an orchestra he and his brother Jim organized. They opened the Kaskaskia Hotel in April, 1915, and then played at the Clifton Hotel in Ottawa for a while. Automated player pianos were in vogue during this time, and Twaify's, a favorite hang-out in LaSalle, had an especially out-of-tune and partially broken, coin-operated machine. Zez heard this piano so many times that he was able to imitate it exactly on a regular piano...he would start by pumping the pedals, dropping a coin and then going into his imitation of that broken-down nickelodeon. This version of "TWAIFY'S PIANO," unfortunately never published, became a standard part of his performing repertoire.

At the start of World War I, Zez enlisted in the Navy and was featured in a skit with a touring show, "Leave It To Sailors." Part of the routine presented Zez and a violinist from Waukegan who eventually became known as Jack Benny.

The Confrey fortunes began to take shape during the war years when Zez auditioned for the QRS Piano Roll Company, expressing that he felt he could make better arrangements of pop tunes than the other arrangers. QRS quickly agreed and signed him. He made about one hundred and twenty-seven rolls for QRS from 1918 to 1924. His arrangements were consistently tasteful and filled with inspiration.

His success in making rolls and composing hit tunes led him into recording (piano solos for the new Chicago company, Brunswick, then for Edison and Emerson; and playing with an orchestra for the Victor Talking Machine Company), and appearing with his own orchestra in vaudeville. As he told me, "They offered me so much money, I couldn't turn it down."

During 1922, Zez composed three popular songs which further stimulated demand for his services ("STUMBLING", "TRICKS" and "DUMBELL"). The following year, Jack Mills published what was to be his phenomenally successful book, ZEZ CONFREY'S MODERN COURSE IN NOVELTY PIANO PLAYING; a folio that remained in print for over forty years! (1963 it went out of print)

On February 12, 1924, Zez participated as a soloist and arranger in the historic concert at Aeolian Hall in New York City. It was billed as "Paul Whiteman and His Palais Royal Orchestra Will Offer An Experiment in Modern Music, Assisted by Zez Confrey and George Gershwin." Later that year, he began making piano rolls exclusively for Ampico and continued to do so until 1927. Within those three years he arranged and performed on forty-four rolls for them.

As popular music was turning more and more to jazz bands - at first, small combos and then, large orchestras - Zez turned to composition as his chief source of enjoyment and financial security. But, by this time he had made a lasting contribution to those jazz and dance bands where, because of the popularity of his novelty rags, every band pianist was employing those runs and breaks that Zez had invented as part of his compositions (and within his piano roll arrangements). Zez's influence was all-pervasive during the twenties.

When he retired from active composing after World War II (he was a victim of Parkinson's disease), Zez's compositions ranged from the complex novelty rags to concert studies, miniature operas, popular songs, mood pieces and simple children's works for beginners.

All of the midi files listed are cut down. Most of Confrey's piano pieces run better that 100 measures. These snips are 24 - 32 measures each. Most of the Mp3 files are complete.
All of the songs are available as sheet music, midi , mp3 and / or audio.

* NEW*

One Interactive CD containing

* All of the sheet music (90 songs) in .pdf format. Songs will be in alpha order with an Inter-active Index

This CD is priced at $100.00 + $4.00 shipping.
PayPal is available on my home page
The Confrey Super CD: All of the .pdf (sheet music) 90 Songs + Index + View the music and HEAR the songs (90 midis), The music filled four 90 minute cassettes.

This CD is priced at $150.00 + $4.00 shipping U.S.
AUDIO ONLY cds - $15.00 each + $4.00 s/h. Order Vol 1, Vol 2, Vol 3, Vol 4, or the set.

Anything can be ordered by email by clicking: here

For a somewhat out of date, and incomplete list of midi files click here


Why midi and mp3 files? Midi files contain information, not sound. This information is sent to your sound card or synth. What you hear is the result of your hardware, not neccesarily what I hear.
I have recorded many, not all of my midi files, using my synths. The mp3 files allow you to hear what I intended not what your hardware defines.
Mp3 files are compressed sound files, not quite as good as original .wav files. If you order the cd - you will get the best sound as I intended it to be.

Children's Songs (4 Candy Pieces) 1949

I midi Captain Butterscotch

I mp3 Captain Butterscotch
my synths

II midi Chocolate Bunny Love Song

II mp3 Chocolate Bunny Love Song
my synths

III midi Marshmellow Minstrels

IV midi Peppermint Drum Major

4 Circus Pieces 1959

I midi The Cannon Ball Man
I mp3 The Cannon Ball Man

II midi Parade Of The Bears
II mp3 Parade Of The Bears my synths

III midi Trapeze Lady

IV midi Barnaby The Clown

IV mp3 Barnaby The Clown my synths

Pop Tunes / Ragtime

midi A Heart Like The Ocean (1935)

midi Amazonia (1945)

mp3 Amazonia (1945) my synths

midi I Hi Hattin'

midi II Kinda Careless

midi III Mississippi Shivers

mp3 III Mississippi Shivers my synths

midi Anticipation (1923)

mp3 Anticipation (1923) my synths

midi Arabian Maid (1935)

mp3 Arabian Maid (1935)
my synths

midi Blue Tornado (1935)

mp3 Blue Tornado (1935) my synths

midi Buffoon (?)

mp3 Buffoon (?) my synths

midi Champagne (1932)

mp3 Champagne (1932) my synths

midi Charleston Chuckles (1925)

mp3 Charleston Chuckles (1925)
my synths

midi Coaxing The Piano (1922)

mp3 Coaxing The Piano (1922)
my synths

midi Concert Etude (1929)

mp3 Concert Etude (1929)
my synths

midi Dancing Shadows (1944)

mp3 Dancing Shadows (1944) my synths

midi Desert Dance (1932)

mp3 Desert Dance (1932) my synths

midi Dizzy Fingers (1922)

mp3 Dizzy Fingers (1922)
midi orchestrated and recorded using my synths

On one occasion I created background tracks for a violinist who wanted to play this song. The cd I mailed contained the original tracks + the background tracks and .pdf files of the piano sheet music. The next link demonstrates the background. Perhaps you would like to play along.

mp3 accompaniment only Dizzy Fingers (1922)
midi orchestrated and recorded using my synths

midi Dumbell (1922)

mp3 Dumbell (1922)
my synths

midi Elihu's Harmonica

mp3 Elihu's Harmonica my synths

midi Fantasy (Classical)

mp3 Fantasy (Classical)
my synths

midi Fantasy (Jazz) (1926)

mp3 Fantasy (Jazz) (1926) my synths

midi Flower Song (1925)
As played by Confrey Written by Gustave Lange

mp3 Flower Song (1925)
As played by Confrey Written by Gustave Lange
my synths

midi Flutter By Butterfly (1945)

mp3 Flutter By Butterfly (1945)
my synths

midi Fourth Dimension (1959)

mp3 Fourth Dimension (1959) my synths

midi Giddy Ditty (1935)

midi Grandfather's Clock (1933)

mp3 Grandfather's Clock (1933)
my synths

midi Greenwich Witch (1921)

midi Heaven's Garden (1931)

midi (The) Hobble De Hoy (1939)

midi Home Run On The Keys (1936)

midi Home Sweet Home (1925)

midi Humorestless (1925)

midi In The South Of France (1932)

midi Indian Prayer (1932)

midi Jack In The Box (1927)

midi Jay Walk (1927)

midi Kitten On The Keys (1921)

midi Kitten On The Keys Song (1922)

midi Lullaby From Mars (1935)

midi Meandering (1936)

midi Melody In F (Rubinstein) (1925)

midi Midsummer's Nightmare (1936)

Moods of a New Yorker Suite (1932)

I midi At Dusk, II midi Movie Ballet, III midi Relaxation, IV midi After Theater Tango

midi Motif Du Concert (1936)

midi Mouse's Hooves (1935)

midi My Pet (1921)

midi Nickel In The Slot (1923)

midi Novelette (1923)

mp3 Novelette (1923)
my synths

midi Parade Of The Jumping Beans (1944)

midi Phantom Cadets (1932)

midi Piano Sketch Of A Symphony Orch (1959)

midi Pickle Peppper Polka (1944)

midi Poor Buttermilk (1921)

mp3 Poor Buttermilk (1921)
my synths

midi Rag Doll Carnival (1945)

midi Rag Doll Dimples (1935)

midi Romanza (1923)

mp3 Romanza my synths (1923)

midi Rhythm Venture (1935)

RHYTHM VENTURE is an Example of what George Gershwin meant when he said Confrey was a source of ideas.

midi Sittin' On A Log, Pettin' My Dog

midi Smart Alec (1933)

midi Song Of Thanksgiving (1952)

midi Sparkling Waters (1928)

midi Sport Model Encore (1937)

midi Spring Song (1925)

midi Stumbling All Around (1922)

midi Sugar Dance (1936)

midi Sunshine From The Fingers (1936)

midi Tap Dance Of The Chimes (1936)

midi There's No One Can Love Me Like You (1925)

Three Little Oddities (1923)

I midi Impromptu, I mp3 Impromptu my synths,
II Romanza, midi III Novelette

midi Tin Pan Symphony (1935)

midi Traumerei Schumann / Confrey (1925)

midi Tricks (1922)

midi Tune For Mademoiselle (1945)

midi Valse Mirage (1927)

midi Who Do You Suppose? (1924)

I midi Yokel Opus, II midi Mighty Lackawana, III midi The Sheriff's Lament

midi Wistfulness (1932)

midi You Tell 'Em Ivories (1921)

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Last updated 22/Dec/2010