About Bill Zildjian

bill-zildjian-2My family has been making cymbals for a thousand years, and this fact threw me into the center of the drumming world well before I had any idea of it. My grandfather started making cymbals in in the US in 1929—there are a lot of stories to tell (later) about his journey from immigrant to cymbalsmith—but he was instrumental (pun not intended) in turning a military-band instrument into the mainstay of the jazz drumset that cymbals eventually became. He and Jo Jones collaborated on the earliest designs of hi-hats; his communications with jazz drummers opened the door for thinner cymbals and made many of the sounds of the jazz age, and ultimately popular music, possible.

When I was born, my family’s company was the dominant cymbal producer, and drummers were everywhere in my young life. Barrett Deems (Louis Armstrong’s drummer at the time) once played a drum solo with spoons on my head as I sat in my high chair; I shook Gene Krupa’s hand as a five-year-old, and by age twelve I had met and was familiar with Buddy Rich, Bernard Purdie, Louis Bellson, Max Roach and Vic Firth. I met many more drummers at trade shows in the US and Europe.

By age seventeen, I was representing Zildjian at the Reading Rock Festival in the U.K., and at nineteen I did the same again at Reading, as well as the Montreux and North Sea Jazz festivals. Being able to hang out with so many of the world’s top drummers in such a short time was a priceless experience.

Around the same time, I was playing in bands in Boston’s punk/metal/new wave clubs—yes, in the late seventies these genres had not fully branched apart, and there was as much respect for Aerosmith, Cars and J. Geils as there was for visitors like the Ramones, The Clash, and the Police. My band did not become famous, and I admit that I was no genius behind the kit, but the Boston music scene is very vibrant and I was exposed to a wide variety of music every day.

Work after Dartmouth College was in the family business, and the most memorable parts were with the drummers. Drum festivals, music festivals, trade shows were all fine times to be close to the music, but the dinners, when everyone could sit down, relax, and think for a minute, yielded the best conversations: Max Roach and Fab Five Freddy cataloging what Bebop and Rap music offered each other; Jamie Oldaker and several Nashville session drummers parsing the differences between the Texas shuffle, the Oklahoma shuffle, and the Memphis Shuffle; Jonathan Mover listing several famous recorded examples of music that sounded better when the tempo was not strictly metronomic.

More than once we would all finish these conversations wishing that there had been a way to play the music in question while we were talking about it, to hear it in real-time at the same time, like maybe with a boom box in the center of the table. Personally, I wished for a tape-recorder next to it as well—these discussions were priceless, and well worthy of saving and sharing. Drummeradio is as close as I can get to recreating those conversations with that gear on the table…. Enjoy!