ZILDJIAN'S HISTORICAL BACKGROUND
EVERY COMPANY HAS A STORY: OURS STARTS IN 1623.
Avedis Zildjian I (the first) was an Armenian alchemist in the city of Constantinople in the early seventeenth century. While attempting to create gold by combining base metals, he discovered an alloy of copper, tin, and traces of silver with unique sound qualities. In 1618, Avedis used his secret alloy to create cymbals of spectacular clarity and power. The sound of the instruments was so extraordinary that the Sultan invited Avedis to live at court (Topkapi Palace) to make cymbals for the Sultan's elite Janissary Bands. As Avedis' reputation grew, the Sultan gave him the name "Zildjian" in Armenian (Zilciyan in Turkish), a word meaning "son of cymbal maker."
In 1623, Avedis was granted permission to leave the palace in order to start his own business in a suburb of Constantinople named Psamatia. That same business is now nearly four centuries old and has been passed down to Zildjian heirs for fifteen generations. Relocating to America in 1929, Avedis III moved the Zildjian factory to Quincy, MA and then to its current location in Norwell, MA for Zildjian's 350th Anniversary. The business passed to Avedis' son, Armand in 1977 and then to Armand's daughter, Craigie, in 1999. Currently, Craigie and her sister Debbie continue the family tradition in what is recognized as the oldest family-owned business in America.
About the Family
Avedis Zildjian I
The Birth of the Family Name Avedis I, an Armenian alchemist living in Constantinople, discovers a secret process for treating alloys and applies it to the art of making cymbals of extraordinary clarity and sustain. Although Central Asia Minor (Anatolia) has a long history of cymbal making dating back to 1200 B.C., Avedis' cymbals are far more musical and powerful in their projection.
The sultan's famed Janissary bands are quick to adopt Avedis' cymbals for daily calls to prayer, religious feasts, royal weddings and the Ottoman army. Sultan Osman II acknowledges Avedis to be the founder of the craft of Turkish cymbal making. In appreciation, the Sultan gives Avedis 80 gold pieces and the family name 'Zildjian,' which means 'cymbal smith' in Armenian (Zil is Turkish for 'cymbal,' dj means 'maker' and ian is the Armenian suffix meaning 'son of.'
AVEDIS ZILDJIAN II
CYMBAL MAKER FROM 1851-1865
Prior to 1851, the Zildjian Family's cymbals were simply known as "Turkish Cymbals." Avedis Zildjian II was the first in the family to manufacture the cymbals bearing the family name.
During that year, Avedis Zildjian II built a 25-foot schooner and sailed it from Constantinople to Marseilles and then on to London, where he displayed his cymbals at World Trade Fair. At the fairs of Paris and London in 1851, and again in London in 1862, cymbals bearing the name Avedis Zildjian won all prizes and awards for excellence. In 1865, Kerope Zildjian succeeded Avedis II and maintained the family's tradition.
PRESIDENT FROM 1865 TO 1909
During the late 1800's, Kerope was recognized throughout Europe and beyond as one of the most accomplished craftsman of the Zildjian family. His 'K Zildjian' cymbals surpassed all others in terms of resonance, thinness (always difficult to create) and durability.
Initially, Kerope was second in the line of succession. But, in 1865, Kerope inherited the firm from his brother, Avedis II. He ran the business for 44 years, until his death in 1909. By traveling to exhibitions in Europe's major centers of culture and trade, Kerope enhanced the family's reputation, winning ten decorations and medals, and many certificates of commendation.
Certainly, Kerope could not have imagined that his grandnephew, Avedis III, would someday bring the family's cymbal tradition to America where it would flourish like never before.
PRESIDENT FROM 1909 TO 1929
Upon Kerope's death in 1909, the Zildjian secret was passed to Kerope's Nephew, Aram (the second son of Avedis II.)
Aram, however found it difficult to continue manufacturing cymbals in Constantinople during a period of political upheaval. After joining the Armenian National Movement, he was forced temporarily to flee to Bucharest. Aram opened a second Zildjian factory in Bucharest, while Kerope's daughter Victoria stepped in to keep the factory in Samatya (a suburb of Constantinople) running. Eventually Aram returned to his native country, where he exported cymbals around the world, most notably to America, which was by then the largest consumer of musical instruments in the world.
In 1927, Aram writes his nephew, Avedis III (who is already living in America) telling Avedis that it is now his turn to carry on the family business. Avedis III, like his father Haroutune, was reluctant to assume responsibility for a 300-year-old family business, which had never been very profitable. Avedis III, the only surviving male in the direct line of succession, was an American, who owned a successful candy factory. He tells Aram that he will not return to Constantinople and therefore the cymbal business must be reestablished in America. Aram agrees to come and help Avedis set up the first Zildjian cymbal foundry in the United States. The company is incorporated in Quincy, Massachusetts in 1929 at the beginning of the Jazz Era.
AVEDIS ZILDJIAN III
THE FATHER OF CYMBALS
As difficult as it may be for today's drummers to believe, cymbals were hardly heard at all in popular music in the early part of this century. Instead, even as the seeds of jazz were being sown, cymbals were primarily used at the end of a number for a single big crash. Avedis Zildjian helped change all that.
Like a lot of influential people in music, Avedis came from humble beginnings. "My father was born in 1889 in Samatya, not far from Constantinople," recalled Armand Zildjian (who succeeded his Father as President of the Zildjian cymbal company). "As a boy, Dad spoke Greek, Armenian, Turkish, French, and later (after coming to the U.S.), English. He emigrated to America in 1909 and got a job working in a candy factory in Boston. He was a quick learner, and soon started a candy business of his own. As he told me, "Why would you want to work for someone else when you could have your own business?"'
In 1927, Avedis received a letter from his uncle, Aram, telling him that it was now his turn to take over the ancient family art of cymbal making. But rather than return to Turkey, where the Zildjian family had crafted cymbals since 1623 (and where he himself had apprenticed as a young boy), Avedis convinced Aram to move the company to the U.S.
"I was only eight years old when Aram came to America, but I remember him well," said Armand. "He was like no one I had ever seen before. He must have weighed 300 pounds, and he was baldheaded, with a white goatee and mustache. Aram was very helpful in organizing the factory from the beginning, staying on through most of the first year to help Dad get started. Even so, my Father had concerns about entering the cymbal business (which had never been profitable) especially when he already had a successful candy business. It was my mother who thought it was a romantic story and persuaded him to consider it. So, Dad went around to the important music stores, asking them if they would buy his cymbals."
The move to the U.S. was a risky one. Demand for cymbals was low, and to make matters worse, months after Avedis opened the new cymbal factory outside of Boston, the Great Depression hit. The factory itself was an old, small, one-story building with a dirt floor.
"Working conditions were primitive in those days, and people worked very hard," Armand points out. "Initially, Dad worked in all facets of the business - from the melting to the billing. He persevered through the tough Depression years where others would have given up." Avedis quickly came to know all the professional drummers of the day. He became very friendly with Ray Bauduc, who played with Bob Crosby. He also knew Chick Webb and Jo Jones. But it was probably Gene Krupa with whom he had the closest working relationship. "Oftentimes when Gene would visit the plant, he'd pick out his cymbals and then we'd all go out on Dad's boat, the Mahal," recalled Armand. "Gene had many great ideas about playing cymbals - such as using them as the timekeeper on the kit in place of the snare drum."
Krupa asked Zildjian to develop a thinner cymbal, which immediately became very popular. He also helped promote the use of more special-purpose cymbals. This had a big impact on the Zildjian Company's developmental efforts. In fact, many of the cymbals we take for granted in modern drumming - such fundamental models as splash, ride, crash, hi-hat, and sizzle cymbals - were all invented and named by Avedis Zildjian.
"At this time, the use of the hi-hat cymbal was just becoming popular," said Armand. "Jo Jones from Count Basie's Band was helpful in refining Zildjian's hi-hats. Later, Buddy Rich and Louie Bellson helped Dad. Buddy, Gene and all the greats had a healthy respect for Dad, whom they viewed as one of the founding fathers of the music industry as we know it today."
There were, of course, setbacks. In 1939, the boiler in the laundry next door blew up, and the ensuing fire took most of the Zildjian company with it. However, four to five days later, Avedis had the business up and running. "On another occasion," Armand relates, "Dad went to light the oven, but let too much time elapse before lighting it. This caused an explosion that burned his entire face, and he was taken to the hospital. That same afternoon he came back from the hospital with his head completely bandaged and went immediately to his desk - where he typed out some bills the way he did every night. He was unstoppable!"
During the Second World War, Zildjian made cymbals for the Army, Navy, and Marine Corps marching bands. They also got orders from the British Admiralty. This was a very important part of the company's business, because copper and tin were allocated by the War Production Board. Without these orders, the War Production Board probably would have closed the plant down.
"The business grew rapidly during the swing era," continued Armand. "Dad continuously increased production over the years to meet that demand. He remained very devoted to the business that he had started; it was both his hobby and his life. Although he named me president of the Avedis Zildjian Company three years before his death, he never retired. He remained involved in the day-to-day running of the company until he died in 1979 at the age of ninety. Dad's continued involvement provided the continuity needed in transitioning from one generation of Zildjians to another." (Recognizing the importance of this continuity, Armand worked closely with his daughter, Craigie, who is currently the Company's Chief Executive Officer.)
"I learned a lot from my father," continued Armand. "He was a very decisive and astute businessman and a born leader. Yet he was also a very modest man with a warm side. He loved telling stories about his experiences and talking about how much the world had changed since he was a boy watching the camel caravans come into Constantinople. He was a powerful presence, but that's what it took to put cymbals where they are today."
The percussion industry has changed a great deal since Avedis Zildjian began making cymbals in 1929. But his countless innovations and pioneering production techniques earned him an indisputable place as one of the most influential musical instrument manufacturers of the century. His unflagging passion for his craft helped forever alter modern music as we know it.
Reprinted Permission of Modern Drummer, Inc., November 1995
Avedis Zildjian was inducted into the PAS Hall of Fame posthumously in 1979
Written by Jonathan Plazonja & Armand Zildjian
Learn more about the Zildjian Legacy - Past, Present, and Future.
REMEMBERING ARMAND ZILDJIAN
Born 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.
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER, CHAIRMAN
In 1976, Craigie Zildjian joined her father (Armand) and grandfather (Avedis III) in the family business. This was the first time three generations of Zildjians would work side by side in the family cymbal business. In another first, Craigie became the first woman to be appointed CEO of the company in 1999. Since then the company has experienced unprecedented growth strengthening its position as the global market leader in cymbals while becoming the largest drumstick manufacturer in the world through a merger with the Vic Firth Company.
As a result of her commitment to education, Craigie initiated the Avedis Zildjian Percussion Scholarship program (in memory of her grandfather), the Kerope Zildjian Concert Percussion Competition and the Armand Zildjian Artist In Residence Program at Berklee College of Music. She has sponsored the Zildjian Family Opportunity Fund (administered through the Percussive Arts Society) as well as the Zildjian Percussion Facility at Berklee College.
In 1998, in celebration of the Zildjian Company's 375th Anniversary, Craigie developed the American Drummers Achievement Awards, honoring the great legends of the drum set. The event, held at Berklee College of Music, paid tribute to Louie Bellson, Roy Haynes, Elvin Jones and Max Roach. For the Company's 380th Anniversary in 2003, Steve Gadd was honored with the ADAA. In 2008, the event moved to London, to honor Ginger Baker for the Company's 385th Anniversary.
An active member in the musical community, Craigie has served on the Board of Directors for the International Music Products Association (NAMM), the Board of Advisers of the International Association of Jazz Educators and the Board of Overseers at New England Conservatory. Currently, she Chairs the Zildjian Board of Directors and is a Trustee Emeritus of the Berklee College of Music.
Craigie holds a Masters of Education degree from Boston University, a Masters degree in Human Resources Management from American University and has completed the Owners Management Program at the Harvard Business School. In 2013, Zildjian was recognized as the 4th Largest Minority/Women-Owned Businesses in Massachusetts.
She has a daughter, Samantha, who holds a business degree from Babson College and was a Supply Chain Manager at Keurig Green Mountain Coffee.
VICE PRESIDENT, HUMAN RESOURCES
Debbie Zildjian joined Zildjian in 1980 as Safety Director, focusing on improving the manufacturing environment. Debbie initiated the company's apprenticeship programs for R&D and other critical craftsmanship positions and was actively involved in the ISO 1001 quality certification in 1995, which was the first time a company in the percussion industry had obtained the prestigious ISO 1001 quality certification. To this day, Zildjian remains the only cymbal company to have received this honor.
She is also responsible for the melting room operation, where copper and tin are combined in a 395-year old ritual to produce the Zildjian secret alloy. This is the first time a woman has been responsible for the company's secret process.
She currently leads the Human Resource Department, serves on Zildjian's Executive Team, and is Vice Chair and Corporate Clerk of the Board of Directors.
She holds a Masters degree in Political Science from Villanova University and has completed the Human Resources Executive program at the Harvard Business School. Additionally, she has served on advisory boards for the South Shore Conservatory, the NAMM Museum of Making, and the Family Firm Institute.
Debbie has two daughters, Cady and Emily.