You need these, you want these. You just might not know it yet. A little history will stimulate your appetite.
Cymbals have evolved quite a bit over the years. Thanks to the jazz boom that started in the 1930s and led to (ahem) rock and roll, popular cymbals went from thick and small to large and thin and then to thick and large. Nowadays we have every kind of cymbal available.
Famous jazz-cymbal examples have endured through all the changes. Drummers still long for an old K Zildjian cymbal, an authentic piece of history, an instrument with a legacy. Thin, dark, hissing with character, an original Turkish hand-hammered cymbal is an exciting instrument. And rock and rollers have discovered that beating the snot out of a fine jazz cymbal also sounds good. It makes the cymbalsmith nervous, yes, but it sounds good. You can ride them, trash-ride them, and crash them. Eventually, you may trash them, but oh the wondrous sounds they’ll make on their way out!
The most famous cymbals in the jazz era were from Zildjian, particularly those made in Turkey and named after Kerope Zildjian. The Turkish cymbal-making legacy, so effectively imported and mastered by members of the Zildjian family long, long ago, has branched out over many generations of craft work. Sabian, for example, was started by a Zildjian brother. Lacking a blood tie but not work experience, the original Istanbul Cymbal company was started by two cats who worked at the K Zildjian factory in the ’50s, and then for Mikael Zilcan in Turkey.
Mehmet and Agop were those two guys, and when Agop died suddenly in 1996, Mehmet went his own way and Agop’s family went another. That’s why there are two “Istanbul” cymbal companies with similar lines and names. They operate in crowded Istanbul, alongside other companies that make and sell cymbals. Quite simply, these days, Istanbul, Turkey is the place for hand-crafted cymbals.
Those crazy, swinging Turks in the Istanbul Mehmet cymbal factory are still sweating out the perfect cymbal, one by one. And they’re still looking for that beautiful combination of wash and ping, smokiness and fire, cushion and blunt trauma that makes cymbal junkies swoon. If you’ve never heard it, and you are a drummer, you are missing out on a piece of your own history. As a drummer you must – are required – to know what a hand-made Turkish cymbal sounds like. Here are two.
22" MIKAEL Z TRIBUTE RIDE
Mikael Z, mentor to Mehmet Tamdeger, was the grandson of Kerope (aka “K”) Zildjian. At 22", his tribute cymbal is a large one, but it’s pretty thin and will flex in your hand. If you smash it with the shoulder of a stick it gives off a tremendous crash, full of clear, bright highs and containing none of the trash-can gong tones you might expect from a 22" ride cymbal. You could really use this thing as a crash in a loud band. Jazzers would cry, and you might go deaf, but it would sound good. But it works even better as a ride cymbal.
Each stroke of the stick against the Mikael Z Tribute brings large amounts of wash, but the dark, pointed attack floats above it all like a piece of dry wood floating on a wave. Even the bell, with an integrated and subdued tone, floats above the sound with a genteel effortlessness. Steady playing on the cymbal face makes an aural thrum of wash, a strong after-note that recedes like the wake behind a boat, but always the dry and dark stick sound remains on top, bobbing like a bumper.
This “floating ping” is a pretty cool effect, and it harkens back to many great jazz records. It’s also an amazing thing to hear, in person, on a gig. The “cushion” of wash between the notes makes a big difference in the music.
My friend Billy Neu borrowed the Mikael Z Tribute. Billy was hired for a cocktail jazz gig, but he’s a rock guy. He had rock gear, including a large collection of good rock cymbals. The leader, a sax player who once worked with Ed Shaughnessy, suggested Billy try a jazzier cymbal. Billy gigged it up on the Mikael Z Tribute ride and didn’t want to give me the cymbal back! “I’m no jazz guy,” he said, “but that thing is some sort of secret weapon. All of a sudden the band liked my stuff more, and I was playing the same stuff! I don’t think you can play jazz without a jazz cymbal.”
Billy was being seduced by the moderately low pitch, the dirty, round glassiness of the cymbal’s ping, and the lovely, musical wash that cushions all the notes you make on the Mikael Z Tribute ride. The traditional look of the cymbal includes finely spaced lathing, copious small-peen hammering, and some dimples left over from its beginnings as an ingot of alloy. Of the two cymbals, it’s the regular-looking one.
22" MEHMET TAMDEGER 60TH ANNIVERSARY RIDE
Old Man Mehmet has been at the cymbal game for 60 years and he wanted to celebrate. Talk about a busman’s holiday! He could’ve celebrated with a gold watch, or maybe a convertible sports car, but no. He makes another cymbal!
At least it looks special. The Mehmet Tamdeger 60th Anniversary ride has wide, wobbly lathe marks over a pinkish brass base. It’s peppered with small-peen hammer marks. The inside diameter, the “hubcap” area, if you will, is turned down to a smooth, finely cut finish, and is quite thin. The bottom of the cymbal is finely lathed in a more normal fashion.
The result is a low-pitched attack that sings even lower when you play the smooth inside band. Even the bell rings low. And the wash is strong. I’d say ping and wash are in a 50-50 mix with this cymbal. It sounds great – jazzy and historic. Imagine Yoda tapping his cane in a vast cavern. No, I don’t mean the sound of a short guy in a funny costume standing in front of a green screen. I mean the sound of tradition echoing across the ages. Or something like that.
Frankly, I loved this cymbal, and I played it on lots of gigs, but it took me a minute to figure out an additional way to apply it to rock stuff. Eventually, I borrowed a tip from a certain famous drum guy and stacked the Mehmet Anniversary ride on top of a 14" crash. I used an X-hat stand that held the 14" upside down with the Mehmet, in a hi-hat clutch, right-side up on top of it, just barely touching. Oh. My. Gawd. It was a dark, sizzling cross between China and ride, a hissing instrument of brutal punctuation. So, if you need an excuse to rock up your Mehmet, try that.
These two Istanbul Mehmet rides are 100 percent guilty of being fantastic, jazzy, handmade cymbals. These are history in your hand and candy in your ear. Obviously lovely for jazz music, they can be put to work in some instances of rock and soul. Find an excuse for ownership and exercise it. Then keep the cymbal for a long, long time. You won’t regret it.
Mikael Z Tribute Ride: thin and flexible; clear, bright highs; subdued bell; works in jazz and rock settings.
Tamadeger 60th Anniversary Ride: low-pitched attack; strong wash; striking appearance fitting of an “anniversary ride.”
MODELS & SIZES
Mikael Z Tribute Ride
Mehmet Tamadeger 60th Anniversary Ride
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