In Memoriam - Robert Zildjian (1923-2013)


The impact of the War on the family went beyond the business. Bob enlisted in the U.S. Army and served as an infantryman in Europe. After the horrors of the second Great War, Bob’s homecoming was the beginning of a new chapter in his life. As was the case with so many other returning soldiers, the war had long-lasting effects. Unsure and tentative about his mental state at the time, Bob sought advice from family and friends. Eventually a neighbor suggested that Bob join his deer hunting expedition to the quiet, scenic province of New Brunswick, as a chance to relax and reassess. “Any problems I had psychologically post-war went away once we got into these gorgeous woods”, he would later claim. This was Bob’s first encounter with Meductic – little did anyone know then how much that trip would eventually change the face of the drum industry around the globe.

Back in Boston at the Zildjian Company, Bob was an unstoppable force. Wearing many hats – accountant, advertising executive, artist relations, and sales — he quickly built a valuable list of personal contacts among dealers throughout the United States and the rest of the world. In 1958, Bob, with his wife Willi at his side, was the first American to display at the annual Frankfurt Musik Messe trade show. “My wife Willi and I used to go to trade show meetings and stand out in front of the booth for four or five days in a row,” he recalled. Bob spent the 1950’s and early 1960’s developing company sales outside the USA, primarily in Europe.

In 1960, Bob and Willi also traveled to Istanbul, where they finalized the purchase of the K. Zildjian Company. It was a pivotal trip in Bob’s career – eventually he would bring his cousins Michael and Gabe Zilcan, their father Kerope, and the ancient formula and hand hammering technique behind K. Zildjians to the Azco plant in Canada. “Those guys (his cousins) wanted to get out of Turkey. So in 1975 we brought over brothers Michael and Gabriel (Gabe) Zilcan, as well as their father Kerope. Gabe still works for us”, commented Bob shortly after founding SABIAN.

Although by this time the Jazz Age had already opened up previously unheard-of markets for their product, even that paled when the primal beat of rock’n’roll swept the continent. Fueled by television, boom-time affluence and millions of teenagers who all wanted to be rock stars, the demand for the company’s cymbals soared.

As a result, the production capacity of the Massachusetts plant was outstripped, and in 1967 Avedis Zildjian charged his son Bob with setting up a subsidiary operation to serve their rapidly expanding market. “We could have located to New England,” said Bob Zildjian at the time. “But there was one area that I knew well and believed in — southwest New Brunswick. I had been going there since 1946, and for 20 years since I had gone fishing with a local outfitter named Willard Way. I knew he was a dependable, hardworking guy who could manage men, so I got together with him, and we went looking for a location.

I chose Meductic for two reasons. One was that the view up and down the river was simply beautiful. The other was that I wanted a rural place where the people who came to work for us would be self-sufficient, could be trained to our standards and would have no preconceptions about factory work. I told Willard to secure the land, and I put him in charge of building the factory and running the operation. And that’s how we started making AZCO cymbals in Meductic.”And so in 1968, 22 years after Bob’s post-war trip to the area, the Azco plant was opened in Meductic, NB.

In 1975, Bob closed the K. Zildjian factory in Turkey and brought his uncle Kerope and Kerope’s two sons Gabe and Michael to AZCO in Canada. “And we started making K. Zildjians,” Bob claimed. “Handmade cymbals exactly the same way they were made in Istanbul.

In 1979, at the age of 90, Bob’s father died. In keeping with family tradition, Avedis left the entire business to his two sons, Bob and Armand. As the eldest son, Armand inherited the controlling share. Unfortunately, it was a partnership that would not last. The brothers quarreled, and two years of bitter litigation in Massachusetts courts resulted in a settlement under which Armand kept the A. Zildjian Company and Bob received the AZCO subsidiary.

I was running 80% of that business and I was told at the death of my father that I was no longer in power and I was out. That was a terrible blow”, Bob recollected about that difficult period. So as it had many years before, Meductic again became a refuge for the turmoil in Bob’s life. On his own, but even more determined, Bob opened a brand new cymbal company in 1981, SABIAN – an acronym formed from the first two letters of the names of his children: Sally, Bill and Andy.

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