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Jon Hassell (born March 22, 1937) is an American trumpet player and composer. He is known for his influence in the world music scene, his unique playing technique and unusual electronic manipulation of the trumpet sound.
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 for two years (founded and directed by Stockhausen).
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 PhD 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 world music, and on the album Vernal Equinox, he used his trumpet to imitate the vocal techniques of Nath (treated with various electronic effects) where he stated:
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 instruments.
Critics of Hassell’s style have noted its incorporation of New Age and world music styles, but have also detected the influence of Miles Davis, particularly Davis’s use of electronics, modal harmony and understated lyricism. Both on record and during live performances, Hassell makes use of traditional 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.