The Tony Williams Cymbal Thread

BachBeat

Senior Member
Hi team,

After searching though the archives and finding numerous posts/threads about Tony, I thought it might be a good idea to dedicate one exclusively to his cymbal sound/set up.

I know that there are many others who frequent this forum who would be more knowledgable than I, but I just wanted to get this discussion going with a few basics. Also, this thread is intended to focus on the 'famous' Tony sound, which is the era spent with the second great Miles Davis Quintet, and the cymbal sounds that have bewitched drummers ever since.

As far as physical stats go, It seems as though there is a near-universal consensus that Tony played a set of 14" hats, 18" crash and 22" ride. Plenty of videos and pics from this era attest to that. Very little information that I could find about the weights of the cymbals, except that the consensus is that his ride was around 2600g.

It also seems as though his famous setup was given to him by Max Roach (at least the ride, although the recent Istanbul Mehmet recreations claim that it was all three), and he kept playing it through the Miles years until about 1967 (Sorcerer album, I believe) when the ride had already developed cracks & lost pieces, and the crash had a number of cracks in it. So, in this sense, Tony didn't choose these cymbals himself, they were a gift from Max, and he played them on the iconic Miles recordings, including 'Four n More'.

Let's get a thread of information going and see if we can develop a more comprehensive story of this legend's iconic cymbal sound.
 

BachBeat

Senior Member
For those of you who have never seen a picture of his iconic cymbal set, I found this ad for the recent Istanbul Mehmet tribute series and really enjoyed seeing them lined up and explained like this:
 

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Matt Bo Eder

Guest
I am definitely gonna check out those Istanbuls - but is it just me or doesn't it seem a little sacrilegious to go for Tony's sound and the cymbals not being Zildjians, though?
 

BachBeat

Senior Member
I am definitely gonna check out those Istanbuls - but is it just me or doesn't it seem a little sacrilegious to go for Tony's sound and the cymbals not being Zildjians, though?
I reckon you've hit a key nail on the head: Tony's iconic cymbals were certainly Zildjians, but Zildjian have moved so far from the processes that made those cymbals that I'm not sure they could do a good recreation even if they wanted to. I've still yet to hear a machine-made cymbal that can match it with a hand-made cymbal in this sense, and particularly in this style.

Even though this isn't a thread about the Mehmet recreations - listen to the 22" ride in this TW set (Played by Matthias Kuert):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxDTawOvsdg

Doesn't that just sound great?
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
Great idea for a thread. I don't know any more than what you've already cited about those cymbals, but I'd love to see a definitive resource started here.

Last I heard, the 'Nefertiti ride,' in pretty bad shape now, was in the possession of either Wallace Roney or Lenny White. I'm speaking about the 22 inch. I don't really hear much discussion about his second cymbal. I doubt he was thinking of it as a 'crash' cymbal, but rather a second ride. Cymbal companies and drummers didn't really make a distinction between ride and crash back then. I guess I still don't.

As far as re-creations go, I think it's really hard to isolate the recording techniques used and, most of all, the way Tony played those cymbals.
 
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Wave Deckel

Gold Member
I am definitely gonna check out those Istanbuls - but is it just me or doesn't it seem a little sacrilegious to go for Tony's sound and the cymbals not being Zildjians, though?
I'd say: not really. Some of the renowned cymbalsmiths that worked for Zildjian in Turkey for decades and that made all those famed turkish, hand hammered jazz-cymbals for them, later founded Istanbul, which later split up into Istanbul Agop and Mehmet. From those two evolved Bosphorus, Masterwork and a few other cymbal-companies later. So the legacy of the old Zildjians is still there.

Actually, making those cymbals at Zildjian would be rather weird, when we talk about it from a legacy-point-of-view, because the turkish mastercymbalsmith, that came to north america later, did/do work in Canada - at the Sabian headquarters.

8mile said:
Cymbal companies and drummers didn't really make a distinction between ride and crash back then.
Not really true. The definition of rides, crashes and splashes was founded by Gene Krupa in the 1940's together with Zildjian IIRC.
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
Not really true. The definition of rides, crashes and splashes was founded by Gene Krupa in the 1940's together with Zildjian IIRC.
Strictly speaking, the terms did exist, but they weren't really taken seriously by jazz drummers. Here's an excerpt that kind of speaks to the way jazz drummers thought about their cymbals back in the 1950s.

http://drummagazine.com/5000-years-in-3000-words-cymbal-history/

In the latter part of that decade, sizes had gone up a bit. Gene Krupa used 8″ and 13″ thin cymbals, 13″ and 14″ mediums, and a pair of 11″ hi-hats in his big band. The terms “ride” and “crash” had not yet been coined. Even in 1948, the Avedis Zildjian catalog simply listed 20 cymbal sizes, ranging incrementally per inch from 7″ to 26″, available in Paper Thin, Thin, Medium Thin, Medium, Medium Heavy, and Heavy. The note “sizes cannot be guaranteed to be accurate” in that same catalog clearly indicated that cymbals were truly handmade instruments.
Bacchante Playing The Cymbals by Jean-Simon Berthélemy, 18th century.

The fact that no one spoke of ride cymbals in those days can easily be explained: Nobody was playing a “ride” pattern on a cymbal until the mid-1940s, when bebop pioneer Kenny Clarke shifted his time keeping from the hi-hat to a suspended cymbal. According to Clarke, the move from the hi-hat to the ride opened up the whole drum set in a new way. Opening up the instrument was not what everybody was waiting for, apparently: Clarke got fired from many a gig in those days.

Cymbals had been getting bigger and bigger throughout that decade: Big band leader Stan Kenton wanted his drummers to play 24″ rides and 22″ crashes, and a few years later even 28″ rides and 18″ hi-hats were available. While specific types of rides had been marketed, such as the Bop Ride and the Ping Ride, the term “crash” wasn’t commonly used until the early 1950s. Some drummers never really accepted those definitions: “Every cymbal I use is a ride cymbal,” says Mel Lewis in The Cymbal Book. “Every one of my cymbals is also a crash cymbal. I only use three. Three is enough.”
 

Wave Deckel

Gold Member
...but they weren't really taken seriously by jazz drummers
That is of course true. Many jazzdrummer didn't care and still don't really care. Others however did care. Some guys like long time jazzdrumers like e.g. Buddy Rich cared about it. And since the 1960s almost everybody who did not play jazz did care about the terminology. But we are getting off-topic.

It is btw. interesting that this one ride is such a legend in itself. Other ride cymbals were just as good and important in jazz history IMO, but don't get the praise the "legendary TW ride" gets. A somehow weird, inexplainable cult... But entertaining nonetheless. :)
 

toddbishop

Platinum Member
Last I heard, the 'Nefertiti ride,' in pretty bad shape now, was in the possession of either Wallace Roney or Lenny White. I'm speaking about the 22 inch. I don't really hear much discussion about his second cymbal. I doubt he was thinking of it as a 'crash' cymbal, but rather a second ride. Cymbal companies and drummers didn't really make a distinction between ride and crash back then. I guess I still don't.
Jeez, talk about the holy grail. What a thing to own. Re: that second cymbal, I think Tony did actually use it primarily as a crash-- I don't recall hearing him ride on anything but the big cymbal or the hihats. I think Riley or someone might have commented on that, too. A little unusual for jazz drummers, who tend to use everything as a ride and everything as a crash...
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
It is btw. interesting that this one ride is such a legend in itself. Other ride cymbals were just as good and important in jazz history IMO, but don't get the praise the "legendary TW ride" gets. A somehow weird, inexplainable cult... But entertaining nonetheless. :)
Yeah, it really left an indelible impression on so man. And as I said, I think a lot of it was the drummer playing it. The way Tony phrased on that cymbal was just from another planet, especially back then. And I think we tend to fetishize gear associated with players like that.

I think we had another thread about classic cymbal sounds. I would add Roy Haynes Paiste flat ride on Chick's Now He Sings....
 

8Mile

Platinum Member
Jeez, talk about the holy grail. What a thing to own. Re: that second cymbal, I think Tony did actually use it primarily as a crash-- I don't recall hearing him ride on anything but the big cymbal or the hihats. I think Riley or someone might have commented on that, too. A little unusual for jazz drummers, who tend to use everything as a ride and everything as a crash...
Yeah, I noticed Tony didn't really switch rides during sections. I feel like quite a few of the greats didn't. Makes me wonder why it's so de rigeur today to have a left side ride.
 

Wave Deckel

Gold Member
Makes me wonder why it's so de rigeur today to have a left side ride.
Is it? I have seen plenty of jazzdrummers using only one ride. But if it is, I'd say, it's just "hip" stuff. Like the "obligatory" side-snare. Or some years ago the "obligatory" china.
 
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Matt Bo Eder

Guest
I reckon you've hit a key nail on the head: Tony's iconic cymbals were certainly Zildjians, but Zildjian have moved so far from the processes that made those cymbals that I'm not sure they could do a good recreation even if they wanted to. I've still yet to hear a machine-made cymbal that can match it with a hand-made cymbal in this sense, and particularly in this style.

Even though this isn't a thread about the Mehmet recreations - listen to the 22" ride in this TW set (Played by Matthias Kuert):

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nxDTawOvsdg

Doesn't that just sound great?
Those definitely sound very cool. I'll have to try out the ride at least.
 

Icetech

Gold Member
I am definitely gonna check out those Istanbuls - but is it just me or doesn't it seem a little sacrilegious to go for Tony's sound and the cymbals not being Zildjians, though?
I personally don't care if they were made by wuhan if they sound correct then good enough:) Cause as soon as i have his sound i can be him!!! it's all coming together now...

P.S. if anyone gets one please do an honest review.. can't trust videos.. eq's can do amazing things..
 

poppies

Senior Member
It is btw. interesting that this one ride is such a legend in itself. Other ride cymbals were just as good and important in jazz history IMO, but don't get the praise the "legendary TW ride" gets. A somehow weird, inexplainable cult... But entertaining nonetheless. :)
Some of the Nefertiti ride fame is attributable to Tony's undeniable awesomeness, and some to the fame of the Miles group. I would argue that the ride is fundamentally unique, however, and that is the main driver of its mystique. It has seemingly contradictory qualities that combine characteristics of thin, thick, clean and trashy cymbals in a manner many jazzers find highly musical. I personally don't think even the tribute ride has come close to the sound. Spizzichino, Bettis and Lauritsen have approached the sound, but it has never been exactly reproduced IMHO.
 

BachBeat

Senior Member
I personally don't care if they were made by wuhan if they sound correct then good enough:) Cause as soon as i have his sound i can be him!!! it's all coming together now...

P.S. if anyone gets one please do an honest review.. can't trust videos.. eq's can do amazing things..
There were only 250 sets made of these Mehmet tribute cymbals, so hopefully someone who owns a set will stumble across this thread and oblige us with a review!

I've got three ride cymbals that are 'Nefertiti-esque' either in design or sound (or both)

1 x Istanbul Agop Se Jazz 'TW' ride from Tony @ CymbalsOnly (2663g)

http://cymbalsonly.com/cymbals/agop/sf/se/22tw2663.mp3 (this link will eventually expire as sock is replaced)

1 x Johan VDS 'Nefertiti' Ride (1995g - see video link)

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zD4bytCSkyg

1 x Istanbul Agop 30th Anniversary Ride (2290g)

Each of them capture something of that sound, and it's probably a tie between the Johan VDS and the 'TW' for which comes closer. The Johan VDS is pretty spot on, but only really works at low to medium volumes. Craig Lauritsen used to own it, and opened up the sound a little by lathing the edge. This has given it a nice silvery quality and slightly higher frequency wash, but has probably caused it to lose some stick clarity at higher volumes, as the wash rises underneath.

The 'TW' is a lot cleaner sounding, and when I first got it (only a few weeks ago) I was a bit disappointed that it was perhaps too 'polite'. It's an amazing sounding ride, but I thought it was quite a different sound to the Nefertiti-type ride. I did, however, stay with it, and then go back and watch carefully how Tony played the ride cymbal. I noticed a few things, and this has changed by understanding of the 'Nefertiti' sound a bit:

1) The guy HIT REALLY HARD. Like Heavy Rock hard - even in his Miles days - and he beat the snot out of that cymbal. I've never met a jazz guy that cracks cymbals, and to take chunks out of a 2600g ride means that you're really laying into it. Greg Bissonette tells a Max Roach story about the 'Four n More/Nefertiti' ride in a Modern Drummer article on Max:

I had the great honor and privilege to take lessons from and become good friends with Tony Williams, who once told me a great Max Roach story. I was asking Tony about the K Zildjian that he used on Miles Davis’s Four And More album. Tony took me out to his garage and showed me the legendary cymbal. “Max Roach gave me this cymbal,” Tony explained, “and he said, ‘If you’re gonna hit this cymbal, HIT THIS CYMBAL!’” That cymbal had been played so much by Tony that it looked like a Slinky or a big spring that had sprung.

Long story short: As I began to lay into this TW ride, it opened up with all of this dragon's breath wash complexity underneath that you can't really hear at lower volumes. It was a good reminder that Tony didn't just tap around like someone playing in a bedroom (though he was a master of dynamics). He hit that thing until it broke.
 
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toddbishop

Platinum Member
Some of the Nefertiti ride fame is attributable to Tony's undeniable awesomeness, and some to the fame of the Miles group. I would argue that the ride is fundamentally unique, however, and that is the main driver of its mystique. It has seemingly contradictory qualities that combine characteristics of thin, thick, clean and trashy cymbals in a manner many jazzers find highly musical. I personally don't think even the tribute ride has come close to the sound. Spizzichino, Bettis and Lauritsen have approached the sound, but it has never been exactly reproduced IMHO.
It's not the cymbal. It's a great cymbal, but it's not the cymbal.
 
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