Born in Memphis, Tennessee, Jon Hassell grew up with ears alert to divergent aspects of the jazz tradition, one early influence including Maynard Ferguson’s “stratospheric” trumpeting with the Stan Kenton Orchestra. While studying at the Eastman School of Music, Hassell became increasingly interested in serial music and more experimental expressions of the new music avant-garde, in the mid-1960s traveling to Cologne to study with pioneering composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Returning to New York in 1967 he met and befriended Terry Riley. Hassell played on Riley’s landmark recording In C, and was introduced by Riley to La Monte Young with whose Dream House project he toured through the 1970s.
An encounter with the music of Indian singer Pandit Pran Nath was fundamental. Hassell studied extensively with Pran Nath, subsequently incorporating vocal techniques of raga into his trumpet playing, developing a new style for his instrument and his music as a whole.
Vernal Equinox (1977) laid down the essence of the idiosyncratic yet wide-open musical expression Hassell has continued to develop and redefine over the past decades: “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 1986 Brian Eno, a frequent collaborator, would observe that “Jon Hassell is an inventor of new forms of music – of new ideas of what music could be and how it might be made. His work is drawn from his whole cultural experience without fear or prejudice. It is an optimistic, global vision that suggests not only possible musics but possible futures.” An enticing proposal for the most diverse musicians, Hassell’s collaborators over the years have ranged from Peter Gabriel to the Kronos Quartet, Ry Cooder and rock star Bono, and his trumpet performances have featured on recordings with Björk, Baaba Maal, Ibrahim Ferrer, Ani di Franco, David Sylvian, the Talking Heads and many others.
Additionally his playing and/or music has been heard in numerous films including The Last Temptation of Christ, Trespass, Wild Side, Greenwich Mean Time, Angel Eyes, Owning Mahowny, Million Dollar Hotel and more.
In April 2009, Jon Hassell and Brian Eno delivered their Conversation Piece at London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. This “conversational remix”, an animated juxtaposing of philosophies of life, art and music, was premiered to acclaim at Norway’s Punkt Festival in 2008.
* Vernal Equinox (1977)
* Earthquake Island (1978)
* Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics, with Brian Eno (Editions EG, 1980)
* Fourth World, Vol. 2: Dream Theory in Malaya (Editions EG, 1981)
* Aka / Darbari / Java: Magic Realism (Editions EG, 1983)
* Power Spot (ECM Records, 1986)
* The Surgeon of the Nightsky Restores Dead Things by the Power of Sound (Capitol Records, 1987)
* Flash of the Spirit, with Farafina (Capitol Records, 1988)
* City: Works of Fiction (Opal Records, 1990)
* Dressing for Pleasure (Warner Bros. Records, 1994)
* Sulla Strada (Materiali Sonori, 1995)
* The Vertical Collection (Earshot Records, 1998)
* Fascinoma (Water Lily Acoustic, 1999)
* Magic Realism, Vol. 2: Maarifa Street (2005)
* Last Night the Moon Came Dropping Its Clothes in the Street (ECM Records, 2009)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music and progressive music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music and electronic music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World, Lektronic Soundscapes, and Mindchild Records. Angel is currently based in Durham, North Carolina.