Classic sounds: Art Blakey

Art Blakey’s attitude about cymbal sounds, as he is quoted in Hugo Pinksterboer’s The Cymbal Book, was basically “I don’t have time for that, give me a cymbal and I’ll play it.” Many of those older players would seemingly just go to the Brooklyn Gretsch warehouse and grab what they needed out of the bins without giving it a lot of thought. But there is a special cymbal sound of Blakey’s that is worth talking about, heard on a couple of famous Jazz Messengers albums, mainly The Big Beat. There he plays a 20″ K. Zildjian ride cymbal, seemingly in the 1750-1850 gram range, with a big, long, throaty, slightly exotic crash sound:

 

And here on Indestructible— he may be riding on a smaller cymbal, but the crashes during this opening are on that same 20:

 

It’s actually quite similar to a cymbal we have in stock right now, the 1766 gram 20″ Holy Grail Ride “Tyrell.” Play those videos in different together— it’s very interesting. Blakey’s cymbal is a little lower pitched.

 

Classic sounds: Steve Gadd with Chet Baker

“I use a combination of K and A Zildjian. One ride and one crash. I have a high pitched A with the big bell that blends very well. It’s good for recording — very clean. I vary my cymbals depending on the date. It’s a matter of what the tune is supposed to sound like and the style of the artist I’m playing for. For an R & B date, I’d probably use both. Sometimes I’ll use a sizzle. Paul Simon occasionally likes that sizzle quality. Of course, the sound changes over a period of time. As cymbals get dirty, they take on a personality all their own.”

On Chet Baker’s record She Was Too Good To Me, Steve Gadd is playing a 20″ K jazz ride which he played on quite a few records in the 70s— I don’t know if he owned more than one of them.  This is airy, very dark, very live, with a great stick sound, and a little bit of an exotic edge when crashed. It’s a very classic sound. The second cymbal is a somewhat funky A, with that metallic edge that’s very common in newer A. Zildjians. Hihats are 14″ medium Ks, with a fairly straightforward dark sound.

 

He uses this same basic set up on his instructional video Up Close. You can listen closely and decide if these are the same cymbals— here the ride and hihats are solid light-medium weight:

 

 

Classic sounds: Art Taylor with Sonny Clark

Here is Art Taylor playing a very interesting ride cymbal that reminds me very much of some Cymbal & Gong cymbals I’ve played— in fact it’s quite similar to the first C&G cymbal I bought. The tune (and album) is Sonny’s Crib, by Sonny Clark, recorded in 1957.

It is a apparently a 20″ K. Zildjian ride, with rivets, medium weight— I’m guessing around 1925-2000 grams. A traditional medium, not a modern medium. Overall pitch is high, with pronounced high and low harmonics. A moderately dark sound, and not particularly warm— while the horns are playing it seems that it could well be an A. Zildjian; the “raspy” sounding highs are, to my ear, as much a feature of the old As as “darkness” is of old Ks. I hear that quality on a lot of records, and a lot of C&G cymbals have it. The cymbal’s low end has a slight exotic edge— you can hear that most clearly during the piano solo. Strangely, it almost sounds like a different cymbal with the piano than with the horns. I had to check a few times to confirm that it wasn’t. Listening during the piano solo, it seems clear that it is a K.

The other cymbals present seem to be an 18″ A, and 14″ or 15″ hihats. They’re pleasing-sounding, and fairly straightforward— the 18 is clean, full, and fairly low pitched; it still is a high, energetic sound when crashed next to the 20″. Taylor rides the 18 with a brush during the bass solo. The hihats seem to be light medium, with a nice foot sound that is not too chunky, not too soft. He crashes them two or three times during the track, but I couldn’t get a particular handle on describing the sound there.

Classic sounds: Mel Lewis with Chet Baker

We refer to Mel Lewis often, for good reason; he was one of the most vocal authorities on cymbal sounds for jazz, and was known for consistently having some of the best sounding cymbals in drumming. This recording by Chet Baker exemplifies everything we’re looking for in a good cymbal sound: defined stick sound, big, exciting crash sound, overall tonality more warm than dark.

It’s notable that the sounds are all fairly straightforward— they’re focused, and not particularly trashy, washy, or exotic. The sound of the cymbal perfectly supports what is being played on it. Lewis gets some funkier effects with the hihats, which are thinner, with a very big sizzle when played half-open.

 

 

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Classic sounds: Ben Riley with Thelonious Monk

In this series we listen to some great recorded cymbal sounds, some reminiscent of Cymbal & Gong cymbals I have played and owned. Here Ben Riley is playing what sound like a medium weight 20″ K, and medium 18″ A. Both cymbals are straightforward, clean, dry, and rather heavier than you might expect. The 20 has a nice smoky accent sound, and a defined, rather metallic ride sound. The 14″ K hihats are darker and more complex, but we don’t hear as much from them. Played by itself during the drum solo, the 20 has an odd, very pronounced harmonic. The 18 is very clean.

Ronald Shannon Jackson on cymbals

The great drummer, composer, and band leader Ronald Shannon Jackson is best known as a player of a giant Sonor set with Paiste cymbals in the 80s and 90s, but here he talks about the old A. and K. Zildjians he played earlier in his career, in New York in the 60s:

“I remember how turned on I was by the K. Zildjian sound to begin with. Then when I heard Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers, that was really it. I’ve played A. Zildjians. My mother bought me a set of Slingerlands when I got out of high school. That set came with a 22″ medium ride and a pair of 14″ hi-hats, so I’ve played A.’s all along. But when I was coming up, all the hip guys used K.’s and Gretsch. Every month in down beat there’d be these ads, and everyone looked so clean and sharp in their suits and ties: Max, Philly, Blakey, Art Taylor, Elvin and all of them.

Basically I find the differences between A.’s and K.’s to be a matter of taste. A.’s aren’t bad. I just prefer the warmth of a K., but a K. can be a lot worse if you don’t get the right one. I’m talking about the old cymbals, now. I used to be able to go across the bridge to the Gretsch factory when they were in Brooklyn. They’d warehouse all the K.’s, but man, after Elvin and Tony and those guys had picked their way through, there wasn’t much left. I couldn’t believe how many bad cymbals there were, but I figured somebody’s got to be buying them. In fact, some of those warped, funny belled cymbals really work for cats. I’ve got a 22″ K. I bought from Frank Ippolito for $70, from his last shipment of Turkish K.’s. Nobody wanted it because it was messed up with a bad dip in the cup, but you can get some beautiful sounds out of it… sometimes. To me, the tones of a K. allow for a variety of inflections, whereas an A. doesn’t change that much. You can get a great sound, but it’s always going to have that distinctive A. sound: bright, high pitched; with that big cutting bell sound.

But see, there are all kinds of K.’s. Some of them were so metallic that by the third set of a gig you’d be tired of listening to it. That’s why you have to find the right one. That’s how me and Tony Scott fell out. We were playing a gig at a club in the Village, and I had two K.’s: a crash and a ride. Right in the middle of a tune, Tony Scott came over, took my cymbals off the stands and reversed them, putting my crash where my ride was and my ride on the crash stand. He was basically right, because that ride was just too hard, especially for clarinet.”

Classic sounds: Charli Persip with Gil Evans

In this series we listen to some great recordings with cymbal sounds reminiscent of Cymbal & Gong cymbals I have played and owned. Here Charli Persip plays some very thin, funky K. hihats, and possibly 18″ and/or 20″ As or Ks. The hihats make the biggest impression, but the other cymbals are very cool to me, even as their sounds are difficult for me to define. They have a rather airy sound, non-metallic, and high pitched.