BRUNSWICK, Maine — Robert Zildjian, whose surname is synonymous with cymbals played by the best drummers in Western popular music, died March 28 at age 89 in his Brunswick home.
A descendant of 10 generations of metallurgical and cymbal-making lineage, Zildjian’s genealogical tree dates back 350 years to the Ottoman Empire of Turkey. He was one of two sons of an Armenian immigrant who founded the Avedis Zildjian Co. in Boston in the 1920s.
However, after Avedis’s death in 1979, a legal squabble with his older brother, Armand, led Robert Zildjian to break from his father’s company. Two years later, in 1981, he founded Sabian Inc.
The name is an acronym, cobbled from the first two letters of each of Zildjian’s three children’s names: Sally, Billy and Andy. Eventually, Sabian would become one of the most successful and famous musical instrument companies in the world, rivaling that of his famous family.
Zildjian and his wife, Willi, moved to Brunswick in 1994.
Gerry Perron, who owns The Music Center in the Tontine Mall and is an authorized Sabian cymbal dealer, met Zildjian about six weeks before he died.
“He came into the store with [Willi] to buy some music books,” Perron recalled, “and they were very nice. He was a hoot, but really sharp. You just could tell he was an entrepreneur.”
Sabian’s factory is in Meductic, in the Canadian province of New Brunswick, where Zildjian used to hunt and fish while recuperating from the trauma of serving in World War II. The company owns warehouse and storage facilities in the nearby Aroostook County border town of Houlton.
In honor of its founder’s death, Sabian shut down all factory operations Friday, and company spokeswoman Katie Bursey declined all interview requests out of respect for the Zildjian family.
Zildjian’s funeral is scheduled for April 6 at St. James United Church of Canada in Woodstock, New Brunswick.
Hodgdon music store owner and longtime area musician Tim Humphrey has toured the factory several times and, in his own ear-damaged youth, played in several bands with one of Sabian’s directors of North American sales.
Humphrey marveled at what the turnout might be at Zildjian’s memorial service.
“Man,” he said, “just think of all the famous drummers who could be there.”