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Jon Hassell

Jon Hassell

American trumpeter
The basics
Quick Facts
Intro American trumpeter
Countries United States of America
Occupations Composer Trumpeter
Gender male
Birth 22 March 1937 (Memphis)
Education Eastman School of Music
The details

Jon Hassell (born March 22, 1937) is an American trumpet player and composer. He is known for developing the musical aesthetic known as "Fourth World," which unifies ideas from minimalism, various world music sources, and his unusual electronic manipulation of the trumpet. He has collaborated with artists such as Brian Eno, La Monte Young, Terry Riley, Talking Heads, Farafina, Peter Gabriel, and Ry Cooder.

Life and career

Born in Memphis, Tennessee, United States, 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 "Dream House" (a.k.a. Theatre of Eternal Music) in New York City.

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 (Young's wife), 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."

In 1980, he collaborated with Brian Eno on the album Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics. 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 musical style, as expressed both in his trumpet playing and in his approach to composition. This musical conception combines the philosophy and techniques of minimalism with Asian and African styles, and relies heavily on the use of electronic recording techniques. 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. 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.


  • 1977 Vernal Equinox
  • 1978 Earthquake Island
  • 1981 Fourth World, Vol. 2: Dream Theory in Malaya
  • 1983 Aka / Darbari / Java: Magic Realism
  • 1986 Power Spot (produced by Brian Eno / Daniel Lanois)
  • 1987 The Surgeon of the Nightsky Restores Dead Things by the Power of Sound
  • 1990 City: Works of Fiction (All Saints Records)
  • 1994 Dressing for Pleasure
  • 1995 Sulla Strada (release of soundtrack from 1982)
  • 1998 The Vertical Collection
  • 1999 Fascinoma
  • 2005 Magic Realism, Vol. 2: Maarifa Street
  • 2009 Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street


  • 1980 Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics with Brian Eno
  • 1988 Flash of the Spirit with Farafina
  • 1995 Re-Entry with Techno Animal
  • 2000 Hollow Bamboo with Ry Cooder and Ronu Majumdar (bansuri)

As sideman

With Jon Balke

  • Siwan (ECM, 2009)

With Rick Cox

  • Maria Falling Away (Cold Blue, 2001)

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