Monday, December 30, 2013

VOQOTD: choosing cymbals

I’d go to the bin, I’d get two fourteens, I’d go to the eighteen bin, get an eighteen, then I’d go to the twenty bin and get a twenty, and that was that—none of that banging and trying.
— Elvin Jones, interview with Chip Stern

He's talking about visiting the warehouse where K. Zildjian cymbals fresh off the boat from Istanbul were kept, where all the New York players went to get their cymbals. I've read more than one account of the extreme variability of those cymbals— there were great instruments, but evidently a lot of quite bad ones, too. Elvin continues:

You know, what’s that anyway? I mean, first of all, you have to play the cymbal just as you would have to play a trumpet, and so it doesn’t really matter if it’s gold or silver or brass or steel, you know. If you’ve got a good mouthpiece you can play it. So I never did believe in going through that whole charade of listening to the vibrations and the ding-ding-ding; that seemed to me to be so superfluous, because it’s the stroke that makes the tone, and if the cymbal isn’t flawed to begin with, then the more you play it the more it becomes pliable, and of course it’ll vibrate more, and the tone grows—and once I discovered that, I quit trying. 
I used to do the same thing, although I’d get to the point where if you’d bang a couple of cymbals I couldn’t tell the difference. My ear would be completely blank; it would just be dulled to any kind of subtleties. So I concluded, “Well, the best thing to do is if I’m behind it I can tell if it sounds good or not and I can put more pressure on it to bring the tone up or hit it near the crown and near the leading edge or whatever,” and the tone changes in each position. So it’s very simple.

Chip has a three part interview with Elvin which I encourage you to go read: one | two | three

UPDATE: This quote has aroused some discussion at the Cymbalholics forum.

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