Leon Chiappini hooks a tire-sized cymbal around his finger and spins it like a basketball. He hits it and listens for the ding, the gravel and the growl: elements of crash that the average ear can’t hear. If it’s not perfect, Chiappini tosses it in the reject pile. “After 49 years, I’d better know if it’s good,” he said with a laugh.
Leon Chiappini hooks a tire-sized cymbal around his finger and spins it like a basketball. He hits it and listens for the ding, the gravel and the growl: elements of crash that the average ear can’t hear.
If it’s not perfect, Chiappini tosses it in the reject pile.
“After 49 years, I’d better know if it’s good,” he said with a laugh.
Chiappini, 70, has been a cymbal tester for the Avedis Zildjian Company since he was 22. He boasts that he has hit more cymbals than anyone alive.
Despite a half-century of crashing metal, he said his hearing is as keen as ever.
“I haven’t lost anything,” he said. “I have perfect ears, because I’m using them all the time, every day.”
Zildjian has been a family business since it started in Turkey in 1623. The company’s rich history packs its Norwell factory – from black-and-white photographs of former presidents Avedis and Armand Zildjian to the drums used by jazz legend Buddy Rich.
Leon Chiappini is a living testament to that history. He selected cymbals for jazz greats like Papa Jo Jones and Buddy Haynes. And he remembers sliding into Avedis Zildjian’s Cadillac twice a week to go out for hamburgers at Howard Johnson’s.
The company is now run by Zildjian’s granddaughters Craigie and Debbie.
Craigie Zildjian said she appreciates Chiappini’s humbleness and his ability to adapt to new leadership over almost 50 years.
Despite the changes, Chiappini is still the chief cymbal selector. Marketing Director John Sorenson calls him “the godfather.”
Chiappini turns his head slightly, holds his body rigid, and concentrates. With his ear tilted toward two orchestral cymbals, he listens to see if they match.
“Sound-wise they’re all different,” he said, “and when I put them together, I want to blend.”
When he hits the right combination, he knows.
“It almost just falls into place,” he said. “The blend of sounds is good, and it’s dark; the orchestral players like that.”
Because of Zildjian’s prominence in the musical world, Chiappini travels to trade shows and summits. He selects cymbals for rock stars and professional percussionists, but he prefers dealing directly with the products, developing new designs.
He appreciates the uniqueness of each cymbal, saying each one is like a thumbprint.
“They’re all different,” he said. “There’s no two cymbals in here alike. There may be similarities. Alike? You’re not going to find two of these alike.”
Although he is approaching 71, Chiappini has no plans to retire. He stays in shape by running up to six miles outside during lunch breaks. He ran the Boston Marathon several years ago and finished in less than three hours.
Page 2 of 2 - His energy is most apparent when he swings cymbals.
He takes one and crashes it, nodding his head up and down, listening. Over the din he shouts, “Do you realize they pay me for this?”
Patriot Ledger writer Amy Littlefield may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.