Jon Hassell

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Jon Hassell
Jon Hassell at Stockholm JazzFest 2009
Jon Hassell at Stockholm JazzFest 2009
Background information
Born(1937-03-22)March 22, 1937
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
DiedJune 26, 2021(2021-06-26) (aged 84)
GenresWorld, ambient, avant-garde, minimalism, electroacoustic
Instrument(s)Trumpet, electronics
Years active1968–2021
LabelsEditions EG, Intuition, Water Lily Acoustics, Lovely Music, All Saints, Ndeya

Jon Hassell (March 22, 1937[1] – June 26, 2021) was an American trumpet player and composer. He was best known for developing the concept of "Fourth World" music, which describes a "unified primitive/futurist sound" combining elements of various world ethnic traditions with modern electronic techniques.[1] The concept was first articulated on Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics, his 1980 collaboration with Brian Eno.

Born in Tennessee, Hassell studied contemporary classical music in New York and later in Germany under composer Karlheinz Stockhausen. He subsequently worked with minimalist composers Terry Riley (on a 1968 recording of In C) and La Monte Young (as part of his Theatre of Eternal Music group), and studied under Hindustani singer Pandit Pran Nath. His association with Brian Eno in the early 1980s would introduce Hassell to a larger audience. He subsequently worked with musical artists such as Talking Heads, David Sylvian, Farafina, Peter Gabriel, Tears for Fears, Ani DiFranco, Techno Animal, Ry Cooder, Moritz von Oswald, and Carl Craig.[1]

Life and career[edit]

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, United States,[1] Hassell received his master's degree from the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. During this time he became involved in European serial music, especially the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen, and so after finishing his studies at Eastman, he enrolled in the Cologne Course for New Music (founded and directed by Stockhausen) for two years, where he met Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay, who would later go on to form Can . Hassell returned to the U.S. in 1967, where he met Terry Riley in Buffalo, New York, and performed on the first recording of Riley's seminal work In C in 1968. He pursued his Ph.D. in musicology in Buffalo and performed in La Monte Young's Theatre of Eternal Music in New York City, contributing to the 1974 LP Dream House 78' 17".

On his return to Buffalo in the early 1970s, Hassell was introduced to the music of Indian Pandit Pran Nath, a specialist in the Kiranic style of singing. Hassell, Young, Marian Zazeela, and Riley went together to India to study with Nath. His work with Nath awoke his appetite for traditional musics of the world, and on the album Vernal Equinox, he used his trumpet (treated with various electronic effects) to imitate the vocal techniques to which Nath had exposed him. He stated:

"From 1973 up until then I was totally immersed in playing raga on the trumpet. I wanted the physical dexterity to be able to come into a room and be able to do something that nobody else in the world could do. My aim was to make a music that was vertically integrated in such a way that at any cross-sectional moment you were not able to pick a single element out as being from a particular country or genre of music."[2]

In 1980, he collaborated with Brian Eno on the album Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics and appeared on the Eno-produced Talking Heads album Remain in Light. The same year Hassell also performed solo at the Mudd Club.[3] Plans had been made with Eno and David Byrne for the three of them to team up for what became "My Life in the Bush of Ghosts," but the plan fell through when Hassell didn't agree with the direction the tracks were taking. His 1981 release, Dream Theory in Malaya, led to a performance at the first World of Music, Arts and Dance (WOMAD) Festival, organized by Peter Gabriel. He performed and co-wrote tracks on David Sylvian's first solo album Brilliant Trees, and its instrumental EP follow-up Words with the Shaman. In the late 1980s, Hassell contributed to Gabriel's Passion, the soundtrack album for Martin Scorsese's film, The Last Temptation of Christ. Hassell and Pete Scaturro composed the electronic theme music for the television show The Practice. In 1989, Hassell contributed to the Tears for Fears album The Seeds of Love.

Hassell died from natural causes on June 26, 2021, at the age of 84.[4][5] He had had health issues over the course of the previous year.[6]


Hassell coined the term "Fourth World" to describe his work on "a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques."[1] He used extensive electronic processing of his trumpet playing.[1] In addition to nonwestern traditional musics, critics have noted the influence of Miles Davis on Hassell's style, particularly Davis' use of electronics, modal harmony, minimal vibrato and understated lyricism.[7] Both on record and during live performances, Hassell made use of western instruments—keyboards, bass, electric guitar, and percussion—to create modal, hypnotic grooves, over which he often played microtonally-inflected trumpet phrases in the style of Nath's Kiranic vocals. His use of circular breathing on the instrument enabled him to create long, seamless, and mesmerizing melodic lines. [8]


As leader or co-leader
Single tracks on compilations and remixes
  • "Map of Dusk" on compilation Myths 3: La nouvelle serenité (Sub Rosa, 1987),[9] recorded in 1985 with J.A. Deane
  • "Pygmy Dance" on compilation Ai Confini / Interzone (New Tone, 1993),[10] recorded live in Italy 1988
  • "Streetfaxx" and remixes by 808 State on EP Voiceprint (Blind from the Facts) (Opal, 1990; reissued on All Saints, 1993 and 2006)[11]
  • Personals, maxi-single with remixes of "Personals" and "G-Spot" by MC 900 Ft Jesus and Organized Konfusion (Warner, 1994)
  • "Then and Now (Berchidda)" on compilation Then and Now (Time in Jazz 1998 | 2007) (Tàjrà It., 2008), live recording from 2001 in Italy with John Beasley, Rick Cox
As sideman and guest appearances

On almost all recordings Jon Hassell played trumpet (sometimes merely 'used' as sound color). In cases where he plays keyboards or electronics it is mentioned in the last column; the same applies to the credits as composer (or producer).
Film soundtracks are labeled "O.S.T." (original sound track) preceding the film title. Artists and labels are linked by first appearance only.

Date Leading artist or band Album title Label Track titles and notes
1968 Terry Riley In C [12] Columbia ensemble member
1974 Francesco Guccini Stanze di vita quotidiana [13] Columbia ensemble member
1974 La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela Dream House 78' 17" [14] Shandar ensemble member (quartet) on one of two extensive tracks
1980 Talking Heads Remain in Light Sire on "Houses in Motion"
1982 Brian Eno Ambient 4: On Land Editions EG on "Shadow"
1984 David Sylvian Brilliant Trees Virgin on "Weathered Wall" and "Brilliant Trees", co-composer
1985 David Sylvian Alchemy: An Index of Possibilities Virgin on "Words with the Shaman Part 1–3", co-composer; also released as EP
1985 Peter Gabriel O.S.T. Birdy Virgin/Charisma ensemble member
1987 Lloyd Cole and the Commotions Mainstream Polydor on "Big Snake"
1989 Alice Il sole nella pioggia EMI on "Il sole nella pioggia" and "Le baccanti", pre-sampled trumpet sounds activated by keyboard on "Visioni"
1989 Peter Gabriel O.S.T. Passion (Music for The Last Temptation of Christ) Real World/Geffen/Virgin on "Passion"
1989 Tears for Fears The Seeds of Love Fontana on "Standing on the Corner of the Third World" and "Famous Last Words"
1991 Marc Beacco The Crocodile Smile [15] Polydor/Nova on "Funeral for a Flower", co-composer
1991 Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses avec Hector Zazou Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses avec Hector Zazou [16] Philips/Phonogram on "Anima", "In la piazza" and "Notte", co-composer
1993 Ry Cooder O.S.T. Trespass [17] Sire/Warner ensemble with Jim Keltner
1994 Stina Nordenstam And She Closed Her Eyes Telegram/East West on "Crime" and "I See You Again"
1995 Techno Animal Re-Entry Virgin on "Flight of the Hermaphrodite" and "Needle Park", co-composer
1996 David Toop Pink Noir [18] Virgin on "Slow Loris Versus Poison Snail", co-composer
1997 Jackson Browne The Next Voice You Hear: The Best of Jackson Browne Elektra on "The Next Voice You Hear" produced by T-Bone Burnett
1997 k.d. lang Drag Warner on "Hain't It Funny?"
1997 Holly Cole Dark Dear Heart Alert on "All the Pretty Little Horses"
1997 Ry Cooder O.S.T. The End of Violence Outpost featured trumpet soloist
1998 Ry Cooder O.S.T. Primary Colors Outpost on "Wide Sky", co-composer
1998 The Insects & Richard Grassby-Lewis featuring Jon Hassell O.S.T. Love and Death on Long Island OceanDeep featured soloist
1998 Mandalay Empathy V2 on "It's Enough Now", "This Time Last Year" and "Beautiful"
1998 Ani DiFranco Little Plastic Castle Righteous Babe on (probably one track)
1999 Guy Sigsworth O.S.T. G:MT – Greenwich Mean Time Island on "Who Would You Have Me Love" with Hinda Hicks
1999 David Toop Hot Pants Idol [19] Barooni (Nl) on "Wing Beats", trumpet and harmonizer, co-composer
2000 Hal Willner O.S.T. The Million Dollar Hotel: Music from the Motion Picture Interscope on "Never Let Me Go" and "Amsterdam Blue (Cortege)", co-composer and track production
2000 k.d. lang Invincible Summer Warner on "Simple"
2000 Mandalay Instinct V2 on "Not Seventeen", "Don't Invent Me" and "It's Enough Now"
2000 Nick Wood Sound Virus [20] Victor (Jp) on "Confined to Ice"
2001 Ani DiFranco Revelling/Reckoning Righteous Babe on "Revelling"
2001 Howie B. Folk. Polydor on "Tap Dancer", co-composer
2001 Rick Cox Maria Falling Away [21] Cold Blue on "Long Distance", composer
2002 Frou Frou Details Island on "Flicks", "The Dumbing Down of Love" and "Old Piano"
2003 Ibrahim Ferrer Buenos Hermanos World Circuit/Nonesuch on "Fuiste Cruel" and "Boliviana"; album produced by Ry Cooder
2004 Lightwave (with Paul Haslinger) Bleue comme une orange [22] Signature on "Huang/Hong" and "Deep Steel Dubh"
2004 Alexkid Mint [23] PIAS on "Mint", co-composer
2005 Paul Haslinger O.S.T. Sleeper Cell (TV series) Rhythmbank on "Memento Mori" with Sussan Deyhim, co-composer
2005 Ry Cooder Chávez Ravine Nonesuch/Perro Verde on "Don't Call Me Red"
2006 Hadouk Trio Utopies [24] Naïve on last three tracks, co-composer
2007 Paul Haslinger O.S.T. Sleeper Cell: American Terror Lakeshore (not specified)
2007 Ry Cooder My Name Is Buddy Nonesuch/Perro Verde on "One Cat, One Vote, One Beer"
2007 Harry Gregson-Williams O.S.T. The Number 23 New Line featured as soloist
2007 Michael Fahres The Tubes [25] Cold Blue on "The Tubes (1994/2003)" with Mark Atkins
2008 Jan Bang and Erik Honoré as Punkt Live Remixes Vol. 1 Jazzland on tracks "III" and "VI", co-composer
2008 Ani DiFranco Red Letter Year Righteous Babe on "Star Matter"
2008 k.d. lang Watershed Nonesuch on "Upstream"
2008 Ry Cooder I, Flathead Nonesuch/Perro Verde on "Flathead One More Time"
2009 Jon Balke & Amina Alaoui Siwan ECM ensemble member, trumpet and electronics
2010 Jan Bang …And Poppies from Kandahar Samadhisound on "Exile from Paradise", co-composer (also for another track, due to trumpet samples)
2011 Paul Haslinger O.S.T Underworld: Rise of the Lycans Lakeshore featured musician
2015 Bassekou Kouyaté & Ngoni Ba Ba Power Glitterbeat (G) on "Ayé Sira Bla = Make Way"
2015 Duncan Sheik Legerdemain Kobalt on "Brutalized" and "No Happy End"
2016 Genre Peak (Martin Birke) Your Sleekest Engine Gonzo on "Metanoia", trumpet samples and/or sampler

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Ankeny, Jason. "Jon Hassell". AllMusic. Retrieved January 3, 2011.
  2. ^ Prendergast, Mark J. "Sound on Sound". Retrieved 11 August 2009.
  3. ^ Boch, Richard (2017). The Mudd Club. Port Townsend, WA: Feral House. p. 341. ISBN 978-1-62731-051-2. OCLC 972429558.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: date and year (link)
  4. ^ Pescovitz, David (2021-06-27). "Jon Hassell, pioneering electronic musician, RIP". Boing Boing. Retrieved 27 June 2021.
  5. ^ "JON HASSELL, SONIC EXPLORER". Vinyl Connection. 2021-06-27. Retrieved 27 June 2021.
  6. ^ Yoo, Noah (26 June 2021). "Jon Hassell, Influential Avant-Garde Composer, Dies at 84". Pitchfork. Pitchfork. Retrieved 27 June 2021.
  7. ^ Gilbert, Mark. L. Macy (ed.). "Jon Hassell". Grove Music Online. Archived from the original on May 16, 2008. Retrieved November 7, 2007.
  8. ^ Jon Pareles, "Jon Hassell with Trumpet and Electronics," New York Times September 21, 1989: p. C15, ProQuest Platinum, Online (November 6, 2007).
  9. ^ Myths 3: La nouvelle serenité) at Discogs (list of releases)
  10. ^ Ai Confini / Interzone) at Discogs
  11. ^ Voiceprint (Blind from the Facts) at Discogs
  12. ^ In C at Discogs (list of releases)
  13. ^ Stanze di vita quotidiana at Discogs (list of releases)
  14. ^ Dream House 78' 17" at Discogs
  15. ^ The Crocodile Smile at Discogs (list of releases)
  16. ^ Les Nouvelles Polyphonies Corses avec Hector Zazou at Discogs
  17. ^ Trespass (Original Motion Picture Score) at Discogs (list of releases)
  18. ^ Pink Noir at Discogs
  19. ^ Hot Pants Idol at Discogs
  20. ^ Sound Virus at Discogs
  21. ^ Maria Falling Away at Discogs
  22. ^ Bleue comme une orange at Discogs
  23. ^ Mint at Discogs
  24. ^ Utopies at Discogs
  25. ^ The Tubes at Discogs


  • Mark Prendergast, The Ambient Century. New York and London, Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000, ISBN 978-0747557326
  • Jon Hassell, program notes from Vernal Equinox. Lovely Music, LML 1021, 1977.

External links[edit]