…an excerpt from Peter Erskin’s book “No Beethoven"
The music industry companies that design, manufacture and market the instruments we musicians play are models of old world craftsmanship with new world technology. I’ve been endorsing instruments for over forty years.
The longest product association I’ve enjoyed is with the Avedis Zildjian Company. I have played Zildjians since I was five years old. However, my formal relationship with the company began in 1972 when I became the drummer for Stan Kenton. The Kenton band required the drummer to play on Stan’s cymbals, all selected at the factory by Lennie DiMuzio. What was remarkable about these particular cymbals was their size: the ride cymbal was a whopping 27” in diameter, and the two crashes were 24” each in size. My 22” Swish cymbal was the smallest cymbal of the lot. Eventually I was able to work in a 19”-sized crash, much to Stan’s displeasure. He liked those big cymbals. Zildjian patriarch Armand Zildjian and Lennie both loved big bands and they were frequent guests at our many concerts in the Boston area over the 3-year period I worked for Stan. This was also true during the two years I played with Maynard Ferguson’s band, on smaller cymbals I might add.
My relationship with Zildjian began to evolve once I started working with Weather Report. The band’s popularity, musical notoriety and importance provided an ideal opportunity for Zildjian and myself to capitalize on this career opportunity. Even though I’d already made it into the Zildjian Drummers’ Set-up Book and appeared in several ads, my role within the company expanded where my ideas and suggestions were sought out, listened to and acted upon. This is the most dynamic and valuable part of a drummer’s relationship with a manufacturer. A performing drummer is on the front line and in the trenches, night after night, and it’s the smart company that listens to him or her. The real years of interaction and product development began in the 80’s, when Zildjian began researching the way to which to make a ride cymbal that sounded, played and felt like those few-and-far-between classic K Zildjian cymbals of old. Shapes, new and vintage, were experimented with while novel-hammering schemes preoccupied the designers and workers in the factory. Drummer feedback was crucial and Zildjian listened.
Zildjian now markets the “Left Side Ride,” designed with me over an intense 2-year period of experimentation. It has all of the combinations of sound that I look for in a cymbal: clarity, darkness in tone, a silky touch and the textural quality that 3 rivets placed close to the edge can bring. Rivets, much like spice, are sometimes best used sparingly to add flavor. It speaks as a ride but also functions as a crash, like any good cymbal. I came up with the moniker of “Left Side Ride” to distinguish it from the main or primary ride. The Left Side comes in 20” and 22” inch sizes; my main ride cymbal is a 22” Medium Constantinople K Ride, low-pitched yet distinct in its enunciation. I also play on a 22” Swish Knocker, a cymbal that is very similar to the Swish cymbal that Mel Lewis played; an 18” K Medium Thin Dark Crash, and I like to have a smaller crash or splash cymbal for accents and highlights … I will often play this cymbal “alone,” that is, without the added benefit of a simultaneous striking of the snare or bass drum. The effect is not unlike that of water splashing upon the music. I’ve tried switching to different models of Zildjian hi-hats over the years, often with success, but always return to a pair of 14” New Beat Hi-Hats — they can do anything and everything.
Regrettably, Armand Zildjian passed away several years ago. As I wrote in a letter to the Zildjian family: “Armand had so much love in him, love for his wife and children and love for his extended family — the Zildjian Family of artisans and fellow enthusiasts ... I can't so much say ‘workers’ or ‘businesspeople’ because he didn't run the company like that... Armand, whether by instinct or cleverness, virtually invented the drumming community we live in. Indeed, the entire music industry bears his stamp.” As much as we all miss him, Armand left the company and Zildjian legacy in good hands. His daughter Craigie now runs the company as its CEO, ably assisted by her sister Debbie, plus a dedicated team of true believers. John DeChristopher, director of artist relations, was the primary contact for most drummers associated with Zildjian; that role is now handled ably by Sarah Hagan. Other names of note include cymbal tester Leon Chiappini and R&D specialist Paul Francis. Paul is the closest thing today to an alchemist of old; he works wonders with metal, taking Zildjian’s secret formula to new places, always in search of a sound that is timeless — no small feat considering we’re talking about capturing the ephemeral and casting it into metal.
One other virtue bears mentioning, and that is Zildjian’s long-standing commitment to education. One of their more outstanding efforts in this area has been the American Drumming Achievement Awards program that both honors living drumming legends and provides scholarship education al opportunities for a lucky next generation of drumming students. In 1998, I was fortunate enough to participate in the first ADAA event in Boston, paying tribute to a then very much alive Elvin Jones. Louis Bellson, Roy Haynes and Max Roach were also honored that night (by Steve Gadd, Terri Lyne Carrington and Marvin “Smitty” Smith).
Here is some of what I said: “While everyone else was speaking Be-Bop “English,” Elvin Jones was busy creating a new sort of drumming Esperanto ... except his language endured, and influenced the rest of the world with far greater import than that other post-War linguistic dream. His is much more of a “revolutionary” than “evolutionary” advent. The fascinating thing about Elvin’s drumming is that Elvin brought drumming full-circle back to its African roots. Elvin has explained that the inspiration for his use of the 18-inch bass drum was that it was the only sized bass drum which could fit in the trunk of the car he was traveling in. (Elvin’s gift for the practical was also evident when he answered the following question at a drum clinic in New York a few years back: “Mr. Jones, how can I improve my reading?” His response: “Get a light for your music stand.”) Anyway, to my ears, by his use of a bass drum that was tuned more in the range of the tom toms as opposed to the larger “boom-boom-boom” reminiscent of “swing” or marching bass drums, coupled with the use of his trademark polyrhythmic statements on the drumset, Elvin became the African drum choir incarnate. All the while, his ride cymbal playing held it all together. Einstein couldn’t describe the concept of time nearly as well as Elvin has done ... “relative” to all things, then, “E,” which stands for Elvin, “equals” TIME, nothing “square” about it, multiplied by passion and “a love supreme.” His affiliation with John Coltrane stands as one of the most important associations in musical history.”
This was met with a standing ovation when Elvin came up to the stage to receive his award from the Zildjian family and emcee Bill Cosby. Of course, stating an accolade for Elvin is merely stating the obvious … but still, it felt good to be able to acknowledge the man as my hero in front of so many drumming colleagues. Elvin is a hero to all of us jazz drummers.