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Avant-garde musician Jon Hassell passes away at age 84

Avant-garde composer and trumpet player Jon Hassell has passed away, leaving a legacy of creating the “Fourth World” music genre. He was 84.

Hassell collaborated with and influenced many eminent artists, including Bian Eno, Peter Gabriel, Ry Cooder, Talking Heads and members of the Theatre of Eternal Music group.

Having studied under esteemed German composer, Karlheinz Stockhausen and Indian classical musician, Pandit Pran Nath, Hassell’s avant-garde style left an indelible mark on music of many genres.

Image: Jack Vartoogian via Getty Images

His death on Friday was announced via a Facebook statement from family members, which confirmed that:

(h)is 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.

Hassell died of natural causes after struggling with health complications for more than a year.

Hassell’s debut album Vernal Equinox of 1978 is largely credited to be the first of the “Fourth World” music genre.

The album’s atmospheric, heady trumpet encompasses you, and is most authentically captured by a statement on Hassell’s website which situates Vernal Equinox in the composer’s life:

“I’d play over the ocean sound, drive up Tuna Canyon in the afternoon, sit in the car and practice raga moves on the trumpet with wild deer foraging nearby and hang gliders launching over my head”.

Raga is a melodic framework used for improvisation in classical Indian music, and much of Hassell’s understanding of it was derived from his time with Nath.

Hassell used electronic processing on his trumpet in Vernal Equinox, so that his instrument moved toward a vocal sound, similar to Nath’s singing techniques.

After Vernal Equinox, Hassell worked with Brian Eno on Fourth World, Vol. 1: Possible Musics.

He later went on to appear on Talking HeadsRemain in Light which was produced by Eno.

In his lifetime, Hassell completed over a dozen albums. Most recently, he released a 2021 single, the nothing of roselight, which stays faithful to his entrancing trumpet style.

When Hassell became unwell in 2020, Eno started a GoFundMe to help raise funds for Hassell’s recovery.

All money donated to Hassell’s GoFundMe after his passing on June 26 will go toward:

allow(ing) the tremendous personal archive of his music, much unreleased, to be preserved and shared with the world for years to come …(as well as) provid(ing) philanthropic gifts of scholarship and contributions to issues close to Jon’s heart, like supporting the working rights of musicians.”