Anyone who ever met Armand Zildjian knew just how contagious his boundless enthusiasm and zest for life could be. To him music and fun were as inseparable as the copper and tin he himself fused together to create the bronze discs that brought that magical Zildjian sound to the world. But despite the serious weight of responsibility his birthright carried, Armand Zildjian wasn’t simply a businessman who made cymbals. He was a cymbal maker who turned his business into an art. He never lost sight that ultimately his job was making unique musical instruments, which brought joy to those who play or listen to music. Living life to its fullest and sharing that sense of joy and fun with his extended family and friends was what Armand Zildjian’s life was all about, and is, perhaps, his most important legacy.
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“Armand was hard-wired for fun. He just had fun ingrained in his system”, says Craigie Zildjian, Armand’s daughter and CEO of Zildjian. Because he was so passionate about music, musicians and the product itself, he was always having fun. It was only when we stepped back and analyzed what he was actually doing that we began to understand that he had intuitively created the company\'s business model: a model that would be replicated in many other companies throughout the music industry.
That model reflected Armand’s credo of always staying “with the music”. He listened to the artists’ needs and instinctively knew how to create sounds - sounds that would help musicians from all corners of the globe communicate their vision and dreams. “That was always the thing: the drummer got what he wanted,” Armand said proudly. “That’s how we were successful. We gave them what they wanted.” He was a loyal lover of music and the arts who embraced all musicians equally, and in turn they gave him back their love and respect.
“Armand had so much love in him”, writes Peter Erskine “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.
The trademark laugh and raspy voice (“Beautiful baby!!”) born of countless hours spent “hanging” with his beloved drummers or talking over the din of testing cymbals still resonates in the minds of those who were blessed by his friendship. One drummer with only a fleeting acquaintance with Armand was moved enough by his passing to send words of condolence to the family: “I did not know him well, but those few times I was around him, I remember him treating me as a musical brother, in spite of my lack of resume”. As Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem said, Armand could \"walk with kings, but not lose the common touch\".
Longtime Zildjian employee John DeChristopher concurs: “The greatest lesson I learned from Armand was respect - the respect that he showed for everyone. Let’s face it, Armand did my job fifty years ago. In fact, he created Artist Relations, as we know it today. He always treated everyone with the same respect, no matter what type of music they played or how successful they were.”
That respect played a large part in Armand’s celebrated relationships with the great drummers of his time, most notably Buddy Rich. “We never missed a show when Buddy came to town,” remembers Lennie DiMuzio, Armand’s right hand man during the early years. “Those two got along like brothers.” The closeness with another great, Gene Krupa, is best illustrated by the fact that Armand and Lennie were both given the honor of being pallbearers at the legendary drummer’s funeral.
“You never heard Armand speak ill of anyone,” his close friend, former NAMM director Larry Linkin says. What a delight he was to be with . . . always a smile, always a twinkle in his eye and always a laugh to make you enjoy the moment. His approach to life was what we should all follow: work hard at your job and work hard at play!” For Armand, work and play were closely related. Cymbal tester Leon Chiappini remembers that Armand loved to break into a spontaneous trumpet solo in the middle of a workday. Also an accomplished drummer and pianist, Armand would sit down at the drum set and piano in his office whenever the mood struck. For all his instinctual warmth of character, Armand also possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of every aspect of cymbals and cymbal making and was successful in carefully balancing the traditional old world virtues of quality and pride (that his father embodied) with the demands and realities of the modern marketplace. It was this keen understanding that enabled Armand to revolutionize and modernize the manufacturing of Zildjian cymbals while ensuring that each instrument still carried that singular sound and supreme quality on which the reputation of the company had been built for so many years. “I’m all for modern machine methods,” he said in September 2002, “as long as it does not change the cymbal. Right now we’re making better cymbals than we ever have.”
“Armand had a love affair with the product,” remembers Craigie. “He couldn\'t even walk by a cymbal without picking it up to hear its individual voice. He always had a special stash of his favorite cymbals in his office that he’d periodically pick through like they were old friends.”
Armand began work in the Zildjian factory under his father’s tutelage at age 14, spending his school vacations doing everything from working in the melting room and hand-stamping the familiar trademark onto finished cymbals to matching hi hats by feel and sound. When he returned from the Philippines after serving in WW II, he went to work the very next day for Avedis in the old Zildjian plant in North Quincy, MA. His job: everything. “You learned to listen and you learned by doing,” he recalled. “I remember one time I had a Swedish order and I matched 276 pairs of hi hats in one day, but boy I’d go home and my ears would be going “deeyongg!!”
“Armand used to say, ‘I\'m no good behind a desk’,” recalls Craigie. “He wanted to be out on the plant floor watching the guys make cymbals just as he had made cymbals in the early days. He had great admiration and respect for people who worked with their hands. And, that respect was mutual because the guys on the floor knew that Armand had performed every job in the plant and knew all the subtleties of cymbal making.”
Armand’s magnanimous spirit and pride in his company’s product was legendary. For one of Buddy Rich’s celebrated gigs at a favorite local venue, Armand bought up all the best seats, rented a bus, loaded in the entire manufacturing crew and treated them to a night of Big Band music. “We all had a great time,” he laughed when reminded of the evening. “I wanted the guys in the factory to understand the importance of what they made and to see how it was being used.”
“Armand loved the cymbals as much as the drummers did,” said Max Roach. “His eyes would light up when he pulled something out that he wanted you to try or hear. You’d have to grab the sticks out of his hand and say ‘Let me try it!’... It was a wonderful relationship from the very beginning.”
Part of Zildjian’s success can be attributed to Armand’s vision for the future of the company. He understood that if the family business were to continue to thrive, he would have to ensure that all the core values that had kept Zildjian at the forefront of the industry for so many years stayed on long after he was gone. He apprenticed people in quality and R & D and carefully planned his own succession.
Armand was very forward thinking. He was always looking for ways to improve quality and create new cymbal sounds. He knew that in order to take cymbal manufacturing to the next level, the machinery that had been used over the past 50 years had to be dramatically upgraded. Everyone understood that this daunting task needed to be accomplished within Armand’s lifetime, since Armand was the only one who could handle a project of this scope. Millions of dollars and years later, Armand had the rotary ovens, computer hammers and melt room equipment that he wanted. More importantly, he had the new sounds he was looking for. I think this remains one of his greatest legacies.
“We always could make a good living here,” he would say. “But, one batch of bad cymbals can ruin years of a good reputation. What good would that do?” Even into his eighties, with failing health, he continued to pass on his wealth of knowledge to the next generation while still remaining active in developing exciting new sounds, as always, keeping his ear to the ground. “Where is the next kind of music going to go?” he asked in his final interview. “That’s the thing we’re always trying to understand. What’s the next sound gonna be?\".