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Celebrating its 400th anniversary, the leading name in crashing, banging, and clanging has made a home here

A cymbal bearing the Zildjian logo came off the drying rack at the company's Norwell factory. The 400-year-old company, which relocated to Massachusetts nearly a century ago, has remained in the same family since its founding in Turkey.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

NORWELL — When Avedis Zildjian immigrated to America in 1909, he set up shop as a candymaker. Settling in Quincy, he and his employees dipped cherries and almonds in melted chocolate, making bonbons. But candy is not what the Zildjian family was known for. Dating all the way back to 1623, the Zildjians had produced cymbals — the name Zildjian, in fact, literally means “cymbal smith.”

When it came time to take over the family business 20 years later, Avedis did not want to return to Turkey. So his wife — a Yankee named Sally — persuaded him to instead bring it to Massachusetts. Today, the Zildjian name appears on stages almost everywhere that music is played, its cymbals favored by legendary drummers from Gene Krupa to Dave Grohl.


Long before “branding,” Sally recognized the allure of the family’s business. “It was my grandmother who said, ‘Oh, it’s such a romantic story,’” said Craigie Zildjian, Sally and Avedis’s granddaughter, a 14th-generation Zildjian, and the company’s first female chief executive. Once considered exotic in Europe, Zildjian cymbals had been embraced by the world’s most prestigious orchestras and were then helping to usher in the Jazz Age by the time the company relocated to Massachusetts.

To mark the anniversary of what has been called the oldest family-run business in America, the company is throwing a 400th anniversary celebration Wednesday at Roadrunner. The show, hosted by comedian and musician Fred Armisen, will feature 18 accomplished contemporary drummers paying tribute to the eight newest inductees into the Zildjian Hall of Fame, including Omar Hakim, Sheila E., Journey’s Steve Smith, and Ringo Starr.

Zildjian president and former CEO Craigie Zildjian, a 14th-generation member of the company's founding family.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Another of Wednesday’s honorees, Terri Lyne Carrington, was just 11 when she first visited the Zildjian factory in Norwell in the mid-1970s, alongside a mentor, the spectacular jazz drummer Buddy Rich. A child prodigy from Medford whose father, Sonny, was president of the Boston Jazz Society, Carrington has gone on to win multiple Grammy Awards and has played drums alongside Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Esperanza Spalding, and many more.


On that first visit to the cymbal factory as a child, she was impressed to learn that Craigie Zildjian had just been brought in as the heir apparent, joining the company’s leadership team alongside her father, Armand, and her grandfather, Avedis.

“It was very cool for me to see women involved on the business side of things in the music industry,” Carrington said. “I hadn’t seen that, or really seen any other female drummers yet. To see her connection to the drums left a lasting impact on me in a positive way.”

At the anniversary event, Carrington will be honored by, among others, Marcus Gilmore, the grandson of drumming legend Roy Haynes. Twenty-five years ago, Carrington played another Zildjian event, at the Berklee Performance Center, in tribute to Haynes, the Boston-born drummer, now 98. Gilmore, still a kid then, was there for that induction.

“Now he’s a great drummer everyone knows and respects,” Carrington said of Gilmore, who’s been a sideman for Chick Corea and others, “so it’s come full-circle.”

She knew many of the drummers in the Zildjian Hall of Fame as mentors and supporters, including Max Roach, Elvin Jones, and Art Blakey. Of the 22 musicians who have been inducted since the hall’s inception in the 1950s, only Haynes and Steve Gadd (a session master with Steely Dan, Paul Simon, and many more) are alive today.


A portrait of Avedis Zildjian hangs on the wall at the company's Norwell headquarters and factory.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Zildjian Hall of Fame inductions have taken place irregularly, typically during special anniversary years. Of the members of this year’s class, all but Ringo are expected to be in attendance at Roadrunner.

Avedis Zildjian III — Craigie’s grandfather — was named after the original Avedis, an alchemist whose cymbals were adopted around 1620 by the Janissary bands, musicians for the Ottoman Sultan’s elite infantry. The family name was bestowed by the sultan who funded Avedis’s first foundry outside Constantinople.

After nearly 50 years in Quincy, the Zildjian company moved to its present location, tucked away on a back road behind a residential neighborhood here on the South Shore. The large lobby at Zildjian serves as a museum of company history, with drum kits that belonged to illustrious performers, signed portraits and memorabilia, an extensive timeline, and some beautiful examples of historic Armenian art.

Buddy Rich’s Slingerland drum kit, with its Zildjian crash, splash, ride, and hi-hat cymbals, is still proudly on display. When Rich was dying in 1987, the person he insisted on seeing was Armand Zildjian. They’d been close for decades. Rich had endorsed Zildjian cymbals since the 1950s. Now he wanted Zildjian to have his set.

“Zildj, take care of it, won’t you?” the drummer said. Their parting words are part of the display in Norwell.

At the far end of a photo-lined hallway is an entrance to the factory. Behind those doors, amid the clamor, dozens of machinists and artisans conduct the process of melting and casting bronze alloy into a gleaming finished product, ready to keep time.


“Avedis came out of the Depression, so he was always stashing things away,” explained Craigie Zildjian as she unlocked a storage closet stuffed with 10,000 vintage cymbals, which Avedis set aside long ago.

A view of a vault where more than 10,000 vintage cymbals have been stashed away at Zildjian's Norwell plant.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Her father, Armand, was a piano player who also played drums and taught himself to play the trumpet.

“My dad was the musician in the family,” she said. Growing up in Hingham, she and her sister Debbie — another executive at the company — often encountered well-known musicians in their living room and on the family’s boat. Armand would invite drummer Louie Bellson or trumpeter Maynard Ferguson to the house with their bands. Harold “Tommy” Thompson, cymbalist for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, was a close family friend.

In the company parking lot one day last week, Joe Pallai and Manabu Yamamoto were wrapping up a break together. Pallai, who works in product development, is about to celebrate his 30th year with the company. Yamamoto is a craftsman, a long-term visitor from Japan who has been working with Zildjian to design prototypes.

Zildjian employee Damian Cox inspected cymbals for roundness on the factory floor.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

“We’re always coming out with new lines,” said Craigie Zildjian, now the company’s president and executive chair. “You can never have enough cymbals.” The company produces more than 500 models at its Norwell plant, ranging in price from $75 to $1,000. Zildjian has turned out as many as a million cymbals in a calendar year.


“It’s always cool when you see an instrument that you made onstage or, like, on ‘Saturday Night Live,’ ” said Pallai, who wears his hair in a classic Beatle cut. “It’s like, ‘Hey — I made that!’”

James Sullivan can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @sullivanjames.