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Armand Zildjian

Remembering Armand Zildjian

Armand Zildjian - Zildjian Family HistoryBorn in Milton, Massachusetts in 1921, Armand was the first Zildjian to be born and raised in America.

In the European tradition, Armand was immersed in the family business at a very early age. As an eight year old, Armand witnessed his great uncle Aram's historic visit to America. Aram had come to convince Armand's father (Avedis) to carry on the family's 300 year-old tradition of cymbal making. With Aram's help, the business was relocated from Constantinople to Massachusetts in 1929 just months before the Great Depression.

Needless to say, times were very tough during the Depression. Nevertheless, Armand's parents -- recognizing his musical talent -- were able to buy him a second-hand Steinway piano and made numerous sacrifices to provide Armand with piano lessons. From then on, music became an important part of Armand's life. In addition to playing drums and piano, Armand taught himself trumpet and became proficient enough to join both the marching and concert bands at Colgate University.

Armand always felt fortunate to have been born into a musical tradition. By the time he was fourteen, he had been taught the Zildjian secret process of melting alloys and was skilled in every phase of the manufacturing operation. Avedis insisted that Armand work Saturdays, school vacations and summers, but Armand never resented the long hours he worked. "My Father came from the old country", said Armand, "and that's just how it was. And, I'm thankful that I was brought up that way."

Armand came to love the business and recognized the opportunities it presented. In Armand's words, "I used to skip school when I knew that my father had a drummer coming in. Whatever band was in town - Chick Webb, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton - I was always dying to talk with them or to see them play, or watch them test cymbals." Over the years, Armand developed a very close relationship with Gene Krupa. "I had a set of Slingerland Radio King drums just like Gene's," he said, "and Gene would come up to the house and show me things."

In the years to come, Armand developed close friendships with Buddy, Louie, Shelly, Elvin, and all the great drummers of the day. Armand then passed along what he had learned from that generation of legendary drummers to help the next generation of drummers find their signatory sounds.

After the War, Armand assumed full responsibility for manufacturing. This allowed him the freedom to experiment and develop new sounds, something he continued to do for the rest of his life. Armand enjoyed his role in R & D, which came naturally to him. In his words, "You have to follow the music and listen to the people who are playing it and learn from them. Then you have to make your product go where they are going." Max Roach marveled at Armand's ability to give the drummer what he wanted. Max claimed, "I could just describe what I wanted to Armand, sometimes just over the phone, and Armand would send it to me."

During his 65-year career, Armand was awarded a number of honors. In 1988, he received an Honorary Doctorate from Berklee College of Music. In 1994, he was inducted into the Percussive Arts Society Hall of Fame. He was also one of the few manufacturers to be honored at the "Rock Walk" on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles, and in 2002 was presented with the Modern Drummer Editor's Achievement Award. Despite all these accolades, Armand (like his father before him) remained a very humble man, who was commonly described as unpretentious.

Armand's daughter, Craigie strongly agrees that Armand used his charismatic personality and legendary humor to put people at ease. And, although he was considered to be the world's foremost authority on cymbals, he was very approachable. People felt comfortable coming to him to discuss their cymbal needs. Armand was so approachable because he believed that Zildjian's mission was to remain stewards of a 380 year-old tradition of serving drummers and percussionists around the world.

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