The process by which two branches of the Zildjian family ended up in a heated transcontinental competition for roughly 40 years is complicated. But for fans of classic hard bop and acoustic jazz, nothing suffices like the vintage, hand-hammered K. Zildjian cymbals jazz icons and Gretsch endorsees such as Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Mel Lewis, Art Blakey, Philly Joe Jones and Art Taylor used to employ back in the ’50s and ’60s when this American company was located in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and imported K. cymbals from Turkey to package with its drum sets.
In 1968 the Avedis Zildjian & Company finally purchased K. Zildjian and granted Baldwin (then-owners of Gretsch) exclusive USA distribution rights for 10 years in exchange for all trademarks thereof. Zildjian continued to import K. cymbals from Istanbul until 1975, when difficulties in dealing with the Turkish government caused them to relocate the principles of the old K. Zildjian factory (Avedis’ cousins Mikhail and Kerope Zilcan and their sons) to its Canadian factory in Meductic, New Brunswick. After the death of patriarch Avedis Zildjian in 1979, his sons Robert and Armand split up the business, so that the former carries on the venerable hand-hammering tradition of cymbal-making in Canada, under the trademark of Sabian (in its HH line), while the latter employs computer-assisted technology to produce a modern K. Zildjian line and a more traditionally configured K. Constantinople line under the aegis of Avedis Zildjian & Co. in Norwell, Mass.
So what ever happened to the old K. factory back in Turkey and all those skilled artisans who remained behind? Therein lies another ridiculously Byzantine tale, wherein artisans Oksun and Agop Tumacurk (who learned the art of making cast cymbals from Mikhail and Kerope Zilcan) begat what became Istanbul Cymbals out of the old factory, which in turn begat both a Mehmet & Agop branch of Istanbul, as well as a Turkish Cymbals offshoot, and finally-since 1996-Bosphorus Cymbals, whose master craftsmen Hasan Seker, Hasan Ozdemir and Ibrahim Yakici apprenticed as children under the Tumacurk brothers. Whew!
Splitting hairs as to how much actual handwork is involved (as opposed to the use of machines to replace certain labor-intensive aspects of the cymbal-making process) will have little meaning for the average drummer. But Bosphorus’ intricate style of overhammering these cast cymbals on both the top and bottom imparts a unique temper and relaxation to the metal for a warm, vowel-like attack, with a relatively deep pitch and a rich, complex wash of controlled overtones.
What makes cymbals from the Bosphorus Masters and Traditional series singular is their peppery tonality and soft-focus balance of attack, decay and overtones. I auditioned a 20-inch Masters ride that was so thin you could easily flex the edges, which had a perceptible wobble when played with a stick and a remarkably low pitch-which translated into a light, dry, airy stick sound redolent of a flat ride, as the small bell was too delicate to elicit much in the way of cowbell-type accents. However, a beautiful 20-inch traditional Medium ride that I sampled offered a brawnier attack and more articulated bell sound without compromising the full-bodied pitch and delicate harmonic characteristics so prized by acoustic jazz drummers, while Bosphorus’ 20-inch Masters Flat was simply magnificent with its buttery, giving feel, creamy tonal balance and taut, well-centered attack-a supple, understated groove machine.