Jon Hassell

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Jon Hassell
Jon Hassell at Stockholm JazzFest'09
Jon Hassell at Stockholm JazzFest'09
Background information
Born (1937-03-22) March 22, 1937 (age 83)
Memphis, Tennessee, U.S.
GenresAvant-garde, world, ambient, minimalism, electroacoustic
Years active1968–present
Associated actsLa Monte Young, Terry Riley, Brian Eno, Farafina, Theatre of Eternal Music, Marian Zazeela, Techno Animal, Ani DiFranco, David Sylvian, Ry Cooder

Jon Hassell (born March 22, 1937[1]) is an American trumpet player and composer active since the 1960s. He is 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. He has also worked with artists such as the Theatre of Eternal Music, Talking Heads, Farafina, Peter Gabriel, Tears for Fears, Ani DiFranco, Techno Animal, and Ry Cooder.[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. 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. Hassell's 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 follow-up Words with the Shaman. In the late 1980s, Hassell contributed to Gabriel's Passion: Music for The Last Temptation of Christ, 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 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 uses 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, and understated lyricism.[3] Both on record and during live performances, Hassell makes use of western instruments—keyboards, bass, electric guitar, and percussion—to create modal, hypnotic grooves, over which he plays microtonally-inflected trumpet phrases in the style of Nath's Kiranic vocals.[4]


As leader[edit]

As sideman[edit]

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. ^ Gilbert, Mark. L. Macy (ed.). "Jon Hassell". Grove Music Online. Retrieved November 7, 2007.
  4. ^ Jon Pareles, "Jon Hassell with Trumpet and Electronics," New York Times September 21, 1989: p. C15, ProQuest Platinum, Online (November 6, 2007).


  • 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]