Skip to main content

Jon Hassell - An Obituary

Jon Hassell – Trumpeter, composer

 

Born March 22, 1937; died June 26, 2021   

 

Jon Hassell, who has died aged 84, was a trumpeter whose use of electronic textures alongside his primary instrument opened up sonic possibilities that expanded his musical palette alongside his notion of Fourth World music. This saw Hassell take music beyond American and European traditions to something more exploratory, as he absorbed rhythms and beats from infinitely less well-known traditions, and married them to more contemporary fare. 

 

The result could be heard on albums such as his solo debut, Vernal Equinox (1978), and collaborations with Brian Eno on Fourth World, Vol1: Possible Musics (1980), and its follow up, Dream Theory in Malaya: Fourth World Volume Two (1981). The hypnotic future-primitive fusion Hassell described as “coffee-coloured classical music of the future” seemed to emanate from some imaginary global village.

 

Hassell’s musical excursions had developed out of his studies with Karlheinz Stockhausen alongside future members of Can, Holger Czukay and Irmin Schmidt. His early collaborations with Terry Riley and LaMonte Young saw him play with Young’s drone based Theatre of Eternal Music as he developed an interest in Indian raga. His ethnodelic explorations subsequently applied the cool of Miles Davis and Chet Baker to a spacier sound that saw Hassell collaborate on record with the likes of Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads and David Sylvian. 

 

The voguish forms of loft-friendly funk and what came to be known as World Music that Hassell arguably influenced were some way from his original intentions. He took particular umbrage with Eno and Talking Heads vocalist David Byrne’s album, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (1981). Hassell was originally meant to contribute to the record after playing on Houses in Motion, a track on Talking Heads’ Eno produced album, Remain in Light (1980). Despite this, Hassell retained a purism about his notion of Fourth World music, to the extent of describing Byrne and Eno’s pick-and-mix collage-based use of samples from African and Middle Eastern countries on My Life in the Bush of Ghosts as “touristic” and “too poppy”. 

 

Hassell nevertheless went on to collaborate with Eno again on Eno’s Ambient 4: On Land (1982) album, while Eno played bass on two tracks on Hassell’s Daniel Lanois produced record, Power Spot (1986). In 2007, Eno wrote an essay, The Debt I Owe to Jon Hassell, while in 2018 Hassell told Billboard magazine that the two had reconnected after he wrote Eno a fifty-page letter. 

 

By this time, Hassell’s influence had reverberated amongst a new generation of musical explorers, who mixed sounds from around the world with electronics and treated instruments. Artists as diverse as Auntie Flo, 808 State, Matmos and Momus all paid tribute to Hassell’s boundless musical universe.

 

Jon M. Hassell was born in Memphis, Tennessee, where he grew up listening to blues and soul on local AM radio stations. His father played cornet with the Georgia Tech marching band, with the cornet becoming Hassel’s first instrument before he moved to trumpet.    

 

He played in big bands, and studied at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York, where he explored modern classical composition. To avoid being drafted, he joined the army band in Washington, and made tape collages that encouraged him to study under Stockhausen for two years at the Cologne Course for New Music. It was here he met Czukay and Schmidt, with whom he experimented with LSD as well as music.

 

Back in New York, Hassell won a scholarship at the Centre for creative and Performing Arts at the State University, and met synthesiser pioneer Robert Moog. He also met Riley, and ended up playing on the recorded version of Riley’s seminal composition, In C (1968). With Riley and Young, Hassell developed a more holistic approach, and he studied under Indian classical singer Pandit Pran Nath. The experience had a huge influence on all three composers.


When Eno heard Vernal Equinox he recognised a fellow traveller, and saw Hassell play live prior to their collaborations. Beyond his own work, Hassell appeared on 

David Sylvian’s debut album, Brilliant Trees (1984) as co-composer, and worked with Gabriel on the soundtracks for Birdy (1985) and The Last Temptation of Christ (1989).

 

Hassell collaborated several times with guitarist Ry Cooder, on soundtracks for Trespass (1993), The End of Violence (1997) and Primary Colours (1998). The pair worked with Indian musicians Ronu Majumdar, on bansuri, a wooden flute, and tabla player Abhijit Banerjee on Hollow Bamboo (2000). Hassell later appeared on Cooder’s records, Chavez Ravine (2005), My Name is Buddy (2007), and I, Flathead (2008).

 

Hassell’s albums as leader included Dressing for Pleasure (1994), and Maarifa Street: Magic Realism Volume Two (2005). The group was named after a street in Iran, and means knowledge or wisdom. For ECM Records, Hassell released Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (2009).

 

Latterly, Hassell was given his own Ndeya imprint through Warp Records. The label released Listening to Pictures (2018), and Seeing Through Sound (2020). Both drew from Hassell’s theory of ‘pentimento’, a term borrowed from painting that refers to images and forms that have been painted over in a completed work. The term seemed to sum up Hassell’s own ever-fluid approach, as he moved constantly forward with an ever-evolving body of work.

 

He is survived by his companion, De Fracia Evans, and her daughters, Uti and Taska.


The Herald, July 14th 2021

 

Ends

  

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Losing Touch With My Mind - Psychedelia in Britain 1986-1990

DISC 1 1. THE STONE ROSES   -  Don’t Stop 2. SPACEMEN 3   -  Losing Touch With My Mind (Demo) 3. THE MODERN ART   -  Mind Train 4. 14 ICED BEARS   -  Mother Sleep 5. RED CHAIR FADEAWAY  -  Myra 6. BIFF BANG POW!   -  Five Minutes In The Life Of Greenwood Goulding 7. THE STAIRS  -  I Remember A Day 8. THE PRISONERS  -  In From The Cold 9. THE TELESCOPES   -  Everso 10. THE SEERS   -  Psych Out 11. MAGIC MUSHROOM BAND  -  You Can Be My L-S-D 12. THE HONEY SMUGGLERS  - Smokey Ice-Cream 13. THE MOONFLOWERS  -  We Dig Your Earth 14. THE SUGAR BATTLE   -  Colliding Minds 15. GOL GAPPAS   -  Albert Parker 16. PAUL ROLAND  -  In The Opium Den 17. THE THANES  -  Days Go Slowly By 18. THEE HYPNOTICS   -  Justice In Freedom (12" Version) 1. THE STONE ROSES    Don’t Stop ( Silvertone   ORE   1989) The trip didn’t quite start here for what sounds like Waterfall played backwards on The Stone Roses’ era-defining eponymous debut album, but it sounds

Big Gold Dreams – A Story of Scottish Independent Music 1977-1989

Disc 1 1. THE REZILLOS (My Baby Does) Good Sculptures (12/77)  2. THE EXILE Hooked On You (8/77) 3. DRIVE Jerkin’ (8/77) 4. VALVES Robot Love (9/77) 5. P.V.C. 2 Put You In The Picture (10/77) 6. JOHNNY & THE SELF ABUSERS Dead Vandals (11/77) 7. BEE BEE CEE You Gotta Know Girl (11/77) 8. SUBS Gimme Your Heart (2/78) 9. SKIDS Reasons (No Bad NB 1, 4/78) 10. FINGERPRINTZ Dancing With Myself (1/79)  11. THE ZIPS Take Me Down (4/79) 12. ANOTHER PRETTY FACE All The Boys Love Carrie (5/79)  13. VISITORS Electric Heat (5/79) 14. JOLT See Saw (6/79) 15. SIMPLE MINDS Chelsea Girl (6/79) 16. SHAKE Culture Shock (7/79) 17. HEADBOYS The Shape Of Things To Come (7/79) 18. FIRE EXIT Time Wall (8/79) 19. FREEZE Paranoia (9/79) 20. FAKES Sylvia Clarke (9/79) 21. TPI She’s Too Clever For Me (10/79) 22. FUN 4 Singing In The Showers (11/79) 23. FLOWERS Confessions (12/79) 24. TV21 Playing With Fire (4/80) 25. ALEX FERGUSSON Stay With Me Tonight (1980) 1. THE REZILL

Edinburgh Rocks – The Capital's Music Scene in the 1950s and Early 1960s

Edinburgh has always been a vintage city. Yet, for youngsters growing up in the shadow of World War Two as well as a pervading air of tight-lipped Calvinism, they were dreich times indeed. The founding of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 and the subsequent Fringe it spawned may have livened up the city for a couple of weeks in August as long as you were fans of theatre, opera and classical music, but the pubs still shut early, and on Sundays weren't open at all. But Edinburgh too has always had a flipside beyond such official channels, and, in a twitch-hipped expression of the sort of cultural duality Robert Louis Stevenson recognised in his novel, Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, a vibrant dance-hall scene grew up across the city. Audiences flocked to emporiums such as the Cavendish in Tollcross, the Eldorado in Leith, The Plaza in Morningside and, most glamorous of all due to its revolving stage, the Palais in Fountainbridge. Here the likes of Joe Loss and Ted Heath broug