Jon Hassell, Trumpeter and Avant-Garde Composer, Dies at 84

    Influential trumpeter, composer, and avant-garde musician Jon Hassel has died at age 84. “After a little more than a year of fighting through health complications, Jon died peacefully in the early morning hours of natural causes,” his family wrote in a statement on Facebook. “His final days were surrounded by family and loved ones who celebrated with him the lifetime of contributions he gave to this world – personally and professionally. He cherished life and leaving this world was a struggle as there was much more he wished to share in music, philosophy, and writing.”

    A GoFundMe had previously been started by longtime friend and collaborator Brian Eno in April 2020 to raise funds for Hassell’s “long-term health issues.” His family added that all further donations will “allow the tremendous personal archive of his music, much unreleased, to be preserved and shared with the world for years to come,” continuing: “We also hope to provide philanthropic gifts of scholarship and contributions to issues close to Jon’s heart, like supporting the working rights of musicians.”

    Born in Memphis in 1937, Hassell studied at the Eastman School of Music at the University of Rochester before moving to Cologne to study under Karlheinz Stockhausen. (Among his classmates were Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay, who would go on to found the group CAN.) After returning to the US in the 1960s, he took on a fellowship at SUNY Buffalo’s Center for Creative and Performing Arts, where he met American minimalist composer Terry Riley.

    Hassell’s debut album, 1978’s Vernal Equinox, was the first to propose his vision of what came to be recognized as his “Fourth World” aesthetic, which he later described as “a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques,” and later as “metaclassical and metapop.”

    Vernal Equinox caught the attention of Brian Eno, who Hassell collaborated with on the 1980 album Possible Musics/Fourth World Vol. 1. That decade, he also collaborated with artists including Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, David Sylvian, and Tears for Fears, and delved deeper into his “Fourth World” concept. In the 90s, he worked with artists such as k.d. lang, Ani DiFranco, and Ry Cooder, with who he continued to collaborate well into the next decade. He also founded the record label Ndeya, an imprint of Warp Records. His last studio album was 2020’s Seeing Through Sound (Pentimento Volume Two).

    “As Jon is now free of a constricting body, he is liberated to be in his musical soul and will continue to play in the fourth world,” his family wrote. “We hope you find solace in his words and dreams for this earthly place he now leaves behind. We hold him, and you, in this loss and grief.”

    Konstantinos Pappis
    Konstantinos Pappis
    Konstantinos Pappis is a writer, journalist, and music editor at Our Culture. His work has also appeared in Pitchfork, GIGsoup, and other publications. He currently lives in Athens, Greece.

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