by Lisa Rogers
"Zildjian, my dream and hope." - Gino Akiyama
"Zildjian - the cymbal that makes me sound like myself." - Trilok Gurtu
"The sound of the Zildjian cymbal is part of my life." - Tony Williams
These quotes from a brochure celebrating the 370th anniversary of the Avedis Zildjian company in 1993 embody the spirit of the man who is at the helm of the company. The life of 1994 PAS Hall of Fame inductee Armand Zildjian has been characterized by his love of cymbals, love of the entire Zildjian-company family, and love of music and musicians.
Armand's love affair with cymbals probably began in the womb. A descendant of the original Avedis Zildjian and the son of Avedis Zildjian III (who was elected to the PAS Hall of Fame in 1979), Armand grew up with rich family traditions. In a recent article about the cymbal makers of North America, David Shayt synthesized the essence of this family tradition: "The long-standing faith of the cymbal-using community in the Zildjian sound testifies to the care with which one family has nurtured its production, linking a past with state-of-the-art sound innovations." Armand has been at the forefront of many of these innovations and continues to nurture the Zildjian name and product.
Born in 1921, Armand's earliest memories are of the many drummers who visited the Zildjian factory. "As a kid, I used to skip school when I knew my father had a drummer coming in," Armand told Modern Drummer writer Rick Mattingly. "Whatever band was in town - Chick Webb, Gene Krupa, Lionel Hampton - they would always come out on the steam train that ran out to North Quincy. I was always dying to talk with them, or to see them play, or watch them test cymbals."
When Armand was fourteen his father put him to work in the melting room of the factory. As he grew older and went off to school, his father still expected Armand to work at the factory during Christmas and summer vacations. "My father came from the old country and he was a great believer in devotion to work," Armand explains. "His work was also his hobby. It was everything to him, and now I'm thankful that I was brought up that way." Like his father, Armand loves his work and the entire process of making cymbals.
During World War II, Armand was in the Coast Guard Navy in the Pacific. When the war ended, he immediately returned to the factory. Armand would begin working in the melting room at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning. Between each melt, he would go to the shipping room and fill orders. Armand recalls: "I'd match hi-hat cymbals by holding them in my hand, without having to use the pedal. Then I'd do the ride cymbals and crash cymbals. If a drummer came in who needed a set of cymbals, I'd help pick them."
Max Roach recalls Armand doing that very thing. "Whenever I went there to pick out cymbals, Armand would walk through the shop with me and explain the cymbals. He would have me stand at a distance, and he would play the cymbals for me so that I could hear them."
From testing cymbals several hours a day, Armand developed quite a bit of technique. "I've seen Armand do some uncanny things with the cymbals and a pair of sticks," says Roach. "I dare say that he would have been a great drummer if he had stuck to it."
Lenny DiMuzio, whom Armand hired to help with the testing as he became more involved in the running of the company, is also quick to praise Armand's ride technique. "Whenever Buddy Rich or Louie Bellson would come out to the factory, we'd match them against Armand. I'm telling you, Armand's speed was right in there. He never really played drumset that much, but when it came to a ride cymbal he could cut anyone."
Armand has been running the Zildjian company since his father's death in 1979. His affection for cymbals and his personal commitment to each new cymbal continues today. A new cymbal is not added to the Zildjian catalog without the approval of Armand himself. "When it comes to a new product," DiMuzio explains, "Armand is right in the middle of it. Intelligence comes out in different ways. Some people can write it; some can speak it; some can think it. Armand can hear it."
In addition to devotion to cymbal-making, Armand equally enjoys working with the entire Zildjian staff. He always has time to stop and speak with each employee and show his continued support of their tireless efforts.
The sentiment he expresses toward his employees extends to musicians in general and percussionists in particular. In a 1986 Modern Drummer profile of Armand, Kenny Aronoff testified to Armand's continued support of the musician. "I first met Armand when I was asked to fill in for Tommy Aldridge at the Zildjian Day in Chicago," Aronoff recalled. "I had always figured that Armand was a real straight-laced corporate businessman. But then I was introduced to him, and he gave me this big bear hug, a slap on the back, and said, 'How ya doin', Kenny baby?' I was completely blown away. There was this incredible feeling of family, like we had been invited to his home for dinner. The whole company has that atmosphere and I think that Armand is the one who creates it."
In addition to his support of individual percussionists, Armand has been and continues to be an avid supporter of the Percussive Arts Society. When told of his election to the PAS Hall of Fame, Armand replied that he is extremely honored and grateful; however, honor or no honor, his support and the company's support of the Percussive Arts Society has been a constant and will remain so in years to come.