If you’re planning on playing some jazz on the drums, you’re going to need a suitable set of cymbals. Jazz music has a fairly specific sound, and certain cymbals work much better than others to achieve it.
While it may be difficult to pinpoint exactly which cymbals are the best options, I’ve managed to narrow it down to a few select ones that tend to work incredibly well in jazz settings.
Here is my carefully thought-out list of the best jazz cymbals on the market.
My Top Cymbal Choices for Jazz
You have two options when buying cymbals. You could either purchase them all individually, or you could get a cymbal pack that has everything you need with one purchase. If you’re going for the second option, I’d strongly suggest checking out Mike Johnston’s cymbal set from Meinl.
Mike Johnston isn’t a jazz drummer himself, but I’ve heard him talk about how he loves the sound of jazz drums, so these cymbals are a reflection of that. You have a pack of high-quality cymbals here that display a wide variation of tones.
I’ll start off with the ride cymbal as it’s the most important cymbal in the pack, especially when thinking about jazz. The 21” Transition ride is one of my favorite cymbals from Meinl. I love how versatile it is.
It has excellent stick definition when you play the surface, and I’ve heard drummers playing swing on the ride with every note being clearly heard. It also opens up very nicely when you hit harder and crash on it.
The hi-hats and 18” crash both produce a wildly dry sound. The dry nature means they’re fairly soft cymbals to play on, making them excellent jazz drumming tools. They have almost no sustain, so you can hit them incredibly hard without worrying about the tones being too aggressive.
The extra-dry crash is a bit of an acquired taste, though. Whenever I’ve gone into a music store and played it, I’ve thought that it sounds horrible. However, it comes to life when you mix it with other cymbals and a drum kit. It’s the one cymbal in the pack that I can see certain people staying away from.
The final cymbal in the pack is the 20” extra-thin crash. This is my favorite cymbal after the Transition ride. I’m a sucker for giant cymbals, especially when playing jazz. So, having a 20” crash cymbal gives you a second option to play swing patterns on which is really useful.
I remember hearing Mike Johnston calling it the “bwoosh” crash. It has a large tone that is perfect for ending drum fills with. I found that it wasn’t as dry as the other cymbals in the pack. So, I can see it having more appeal to a wider range of drummers.
Overall, I think this is one of the best cymbal packs to get for jazz drumming. The cymbals are large, and most of them are dry enough to sound subtle in a mix.
You can hit them all quite hard without any of them sounding too aggressive, which is any jazz drummer’s dream.
I once watched a gig where the drummer was using this ride. The band was playing hard rock music, and the sound of the ride immediately caught my attention when I heard it.
I spoke to the drummer after the show and he told me how he uses the Zildjian K Light ride with all the bands he plays in, even the jazz ones.
I later found out that this cymbal sounds amazing in jazz settings. It’s a large ride that is full of life thanks to the large amount of washiness that it has. I was surprised that it had a crazy amount of stick clarity even with the washiness.
I love how light and crisp the tone is. It’s normally quite difficult to describe musicality when it comes to drums, but many people have understood when I tell them that this ride is one of the most musical sounding rides in Zildjian’s lineup.
It’s the type of cymbal that will stop you from needing other ones to fulfill certain sound requirements. I can easily see a jazz drumming playing a whole show with just this ride and a pair of hi-hats.
I also found that it sounds beautiful when played with mallets. You get a warm tone that increases with intensity as you roll on it, giving you a dynamic range that is always needed in jazz settings.
The one gripe I have with the ride is the bell. While it sounds great when you play it, the bell is quite small and easy to miss. If you’re playing in a jazz band that plays a few Latin tunes, you might find yourself getting a bit frustrated with the fact that the bell is so small.
Aside from that, the washiness, articulation, and musicality put the Zildjian K Light ride at the top of my list for jazz ride cymbals.
I distinctly remember when these hi-hats hit the market. They were the most unique looking cymbals I had ever seen. I questioned Meinl’s design choice at first, but I’ve grown to love the look of the Byzance Dual Series as I’ve gotten older.
I’ve put these hi-hats on this list as I feel they’re an excellent choice for jazz. They have a particularly unique sound, thanks to the combination of lathed and unlathed surfacing. The sound sits somewhere in between being dry and dark and having the sound of classic hi-hats.
There’s a hint of trashiness to them which is what I’ve realized that most drummers love about these hi-hats. I love how they sound when played open.
The washy tones seem to blend well into the sounds of your other cymbals. So, they’re great for playing cymbal-heavy jazz parts.
Something that I personally found with these hats is the fact that they sound much better in person than they do in any video I’ve seen. If you order these online, you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how much better they’ll sound than you thought they would.
One of my favorite aspects of the Dual hats is the fact that you can swap the bottom and top hats around to get a completely different sound. Both sounds are great, so you have plenty of options.
The final thing that I think is worth mentioning is the fact that these hats have an incredibly strong foot chick sound. Since they’re 15”, they’re a bit heavier than standard hi-hats and their tone is a bit louder when they clash together.
The strong foot sound is perfect for keeping time with your left foot in jazz settings. Since these hi-hats have such a unique tone, I can see certain drummers preferring to have the classic hi-hats that most people are used to.
This will differ from person to person, but you may find yourself wanting a classic hi-hat sound instead of the dry trashy tones that these hats offer. Just know that those tones are excellent in jazz settings.
The Zildjian Sweet K cymbals are some of the most versatile cymbals that I’ve been lucky enough to play. They’re great options for several styles of music, which is why I’ve put the 18” crash on this list.
While the above hi-hats and ride cymbal are light and dry, this crash is a bit brighter and will give you a good amount of contrast in your setup.
I love how warm and rich the tone is. I found that it sits very nicely under the sound of the band, making it a good option for getting a round sound.
That sound is so important in jazz as you often need to crash on the hits with other musicians, but most cymbals will sound too aggressive. The K Sweet crash is perfect.
My favorite part of this crash is surprisingly the bell. It has a fairly large raw bell that has a strong earthy tone when you hit it. Since the K Light ride has a small bell, I’d use the bell on this crash instead when playing Latin grooves.
I know many jazz drummers who don’t play with any cymbals under 19”. If you’re someone with similar preferences, you could use the 19” Sweet crash or the 20” one. Both those cymbals have the same qualities. They’re just a bit deeper as they get bigger.
Jazz often calls for weird and wacky cymbal setups. Dry cymbals mixed with dark tones and little sustain are what most drummers go for.
I think the Zildjian Sweet crash offers a good variation from that. It’s a cymbal with a classic sound that will still work great in jazz settings.
Why Are Certain Cymbals Better for Jazz?
There are so many different types of cymbals on the market. Some of them sound incredibly aggressive while others are light and subtle. The jazz style is typically quite gentle and soft, especially when thinking about traditional jazz.
So, the lighter and thinner cymbals tend to work better as they don’t get in the way of the other musicians.
If you show up to a jazz gig with some big and bright cymbals, you’re going to get a few dirty looks as those cymbals are going to stand out very clearly over everyone else.
When I play jazz gigs, I always remind myself to pack light and subtle cymbals when getting ready for the show. I’ve played a few gigs with bright cymbals, and I ended up having to play very lightly the whole time.
I would have had more fun at those gigs if I had the right cymbals that didn’t cause me to hold back in intensity.
How Important are Cymbals in Jazz?
Cymbals are arguably more important than the drums in jazz settings. As a jazz drummer, you keep time with the ride cymbal and hi-hats instead of the bass and snare drum. You could play a whole swing jazz gig with only your cymbals if you really had to.
So, it’s more important to invest in good cymbals than it is to get a good drum kit as a jazz drummer. Your cymbals determine your personal sound on the drums.
How Many Cymbals Should You Have for Jazz?
The number of cymbals you need depends on what type of drummer you are. I know a few drummers that are somehow able to get several sounds from one cymbal. I saw a gig once where the drummer only had a ride cymbal, yet he somehow created sounds I had never heard before.
If you’re like me, you’ll need a bit more than that. The general setup in jazz is to have two cymbals and a pair of hi-hats. Some drummers will choose to have two ride cymbals while others will have a ride and a crash.
I personally love playing with two ride cymbals as well as another crash cymbal added into the setup.
While top-quality cymbals are fairly expensive, they tend to last years. They even start sounding better as they get older. If you’re concerned about buying expensive cymbals individually, you could go for a cymbal pack.
Cymbal packs save you a serious amount of money while providing you with a tried and tested set of cymbals.
Remember that your cymbals are the biggest important choice for jazz drumming. So choose them wisely!