BY PHIL HOOD
When I saw that the founders of the Academy of Percussive Arts in Memphis were now distributing Impression Cymbals in the US, I naturally wanted to know more. So I called a few people knowledgeable about the history of the brand, and then spoke with Robert Kessling, the school founder.
Like many new undertakings this one had a bit of serendipity at its birth. Several years back Derek Zimmerman brought some Impression Cymbals into the offices of the academy. The school, highly successful with hundreds of students in programs that now extend beyond drums, also has a small retail setup, and Derek wanted to show them the cymbals. Kessling says he was interested right when he heard the 17″ crash. But little did he know it would be his first step toward becoming US distributor for company.
In November of that year Kessling and his wife, percussionist Whitney Kessling, met Zimmerman at PASIC (Percussive Arts Society International Convention) in San Antonio and bought all his cymbals. “I wanted to share these cymbals with the world because they are incredible,” Robert says of that meeting. Unfortunately, his purchases came too late to help the ownership at the time, and within a year the distributorship had changed hands. But in the meantime Kessling’s interest in the Impression sound had only grown.
He contacted “Leon” Güçlü Arslan, the cymbal maker in charge of Impression in Turkey. Arslan previously was involved in production of the Crescent line in Turkey before the company was bought by Sabian, and has a reputation as a good cymbal maker. His brother Mehmet handles the business side of the company. Arslan and Kessling struck up a friendship and Kessling expressed his desire to take over the line. After a little Skyping back and forth the teacher was now a distributor, operating under the name Rhythmic Distributors.
When Drum, started in the early ’90s there were only three cymbal brands that mattered: Zildjian, Sabian, and Paiste. Meinl was not a serious competitor in the US, nor were specialty brands such as Wuhan and UFIP. There were other nascent Turkish brands but since those early days there has been an explosion in cymbal brands, especially from Turkish foundries. Many of them, such as Istanbul Agop and Istanbul Mehmet, trace their origins back to the Zildjian foundry in Istanbul where the original K Zildjians were made. It’s not that difficult to have cymbals made or find a line to distribute them these days — what is difficult is making it a success.
It’s an uphill task to build a cymbal brand — or any brand in the drum industry, for that matter. Our music products industry is small, in the great scheme of things. Kessling is undeterred, partly because he feels his product is so good. “They’re the best cymbals I ever played,” he says. “When the endorsers get their cymbals they say that too,” he adds. “In the studio the recording engineers always ask ‘What are those cymbals?’ Drummer John Patterson of the band Tora Tora went into the studio with another project not long ago. The sound man said they sounded so good he had to move the overheads closer to them.”
He also feels his school, his contacts, his symphonic pedigree, and his retail experience bode well for the venture, and he may well be right. I have seen companies jump into the business of importing Turkish cymbals without deep contacts or experience, and some of those companies are gone now. What strikes me most about Kessling is his entrepreneurial spirit and knowledgeable enthusiasm for cymbal sound. And not just cymbals for drum set — he says he’d like to have a line of orchestral cymbals at some point too.