WORKS: Piano rolls & scores (real. Artis Wodehouse)
PERFORMER: Zez Confrey, Artis Wodehouse (piano)
CATALOGUE NO: 0927-49309-2
Edward Elzear (‘Zez’) Confrey (1895-1971) was the American Billy Mayerl, a classically trained syncopating pianist who enjoyed enormous success in the Twenties. Dogged by epilepsy, he saw his star fade rapidly and lived out the remainder of his years in relative obscurity.
The programme of Confrey’s own piano rolls is thoroughly representative of his compositions. It ranges from the saccharine sub-MacDowell of Heaven’s Garden to deft Charleston treatments of The Sheik of Araby and Dvorák’s Humoresque; from quasi-Classical pieces like the Concert Étude (which would merit a revival as a recital encore) to the novelty numbers, 16 in all, among the most distinctive, defining music of the era. The best known of these is Kitten on the Keys (track 9). It’s a pity that the booklet mistakenly lists it as track 8; appositely, track 8 is actually Kinda Careless. Many, such as My Pet, Dizzy Fingers and Coaxing the Piano, differ significantly from their sheet music versions, but are far easier on the ear than Confrey’s murky acoustic recordings. The Yamaha Disklavier Pro (a nine-foot concert grand) sounds lovely, phrases naturally and altogether plays with inhuman conviction, another feather in the cap of Artis Wodehouse whose earlier resurrections of Gershwin and Jelly Roll Morton rolls were similarly rewarding. Jeremy Nicholas