Zez Confrey, Piano Music. Eteri Andjaparidze, piano. (Naxos American Classics) Zez who? Award material, says proud label Naxos of the “People’s Paderewski,” whose charming compositions just garnered the label and its pianist a Grammy nomination for Best Solo Instrumental Album; it lost. Illinois-born Edward Elzear “Zez” Confrey (1895- 1971) studied classical music at the Chicago Musical College. After forming an orchestra, he recorded many “dance music” hits before playing piano in the Navy with a violinist named Jack Benny (!), following that up with a stunning 171 piano rolls recorded in 10 years. (Many of his compositions sound perfect for silent film accompaniment). His 1921 composition, Kitten on the Keys, a 2:27 ditty that sounds like Scott Joplin on speed, made him an instant celebrity. In 1924, he opened Paul Whiteman’s historic New York concert “An Experiment in Modern Music,” playing a popular medley followed by his own Kitten. The concert ended with something entitled Rhapsody in Blue by a guy named Gershwin; Zez lost popularity thereafter, writing his last compositions in 1959.
With titles such as African Suite, Amazonia, Wise Cracker Suite, and Moods of a New Yorker, Confrey composed countless likeable pieces that variously fly, rumba, and ruminate over the keyboard. Three Little Oddities (1923) are sweet and wistful, while Fourth Dimension (1959) reminds me of little blips on a Star Trek screen. Georgian (as in former Soviet Union) Eteri Andjaparidze, an amazing pianist, sounds like she has either two extra fingers or wings attached to her digits. She plays this music as if she had mainlined it from birth. When it’s all said and done, though, this is enjoyable fare your granny may have taken a liking to. But a Grammy?