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. Post-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, and there published his first songs. In 1917 Confrey joined the U.S. Navy, but got no closer to the front lines than playing in a Navy-sponsored revue called Leave It to the Sailors. During this run, Confrey cut his first piano roll for the Imperial Company, a song from the show called "Over the Top."