Jon Hassell, the avant-garde composer and trumpet player who collaborated with artists like Talking Heads, Brian Eno and Ry Cooder in addition to his explorations into “Fourth World” music, died Saturday at the age of 84.
“After a little more than a year of fighting through health complications, Jon died peacefully in the early morning hours of natural causes,” Hassell’s family said in a statement on social media.
“His 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. He cherished life and leaving this world was a struggle as there was much more he wished to share in music, philosophy, and writing.”
Hassell’s health issues came to light in April 2020 when a GoFundMe page was established in support of the composer who has dealing with unspecified “long-term health issues.” “Jon is going through hard times now. I feel that many of us owe him a debt of gratitude,” Eno said in a statement on the fundraising page, which raised over $100,000.
“All donations to Jon Hassell’s GoFundMe will allow the tremendous personal archive of his music, much unreleased, to be preserved and shared with the world for years to come,” his family said Saturday, adding it would also “provide philanthropic gifts of scholarship and contributions to issues close to Jon’s heart.”
A student of the electronic music pioneer Karlheinz Stockhausen — his classmates included Can’s Irmin Schmidt and Holger Czukay — Hassell first appeared on the first recorded version of composer Terry Riley’s groundbreaking minimalism work In C in 1968. After releasing his debut album Vernal Equinox in 1977, Hassell collaborated with Eno on 1980’s Fourth World, Vol.1: Possible Musics.
“Fourth World is a kind of philosophical guideline, a creative posture, directed towards the conditions created by the intersection of technology with indigenous music and culture,” Hassell explained.
“The underlying goal is to provide a kind of creative midwifery to the inevitable merging of cultures while providing an antidote to a global ‘monoculture’ created by media colonization.”
He continued, “These cultures are our ‘vocabulary’ in trying to think about ways to respond to our place in the new geography created by our media world, and must be respected relative to their importance to our survival.”
In addition to Hassell’s solo work, his trumpet skills were showcased on collaborations with Talking Heads (Remain in Light’s “Houses in Motion”), Peter Gabriel’s scores for Birdy and Passion (The Last Temptation of Christ), Tears for Fears’ “Standing on the Corner of the Third World” and numerous collaborations with Cooder, most recently on 2008’s “Flathead One More Time.” In 2020, Hassell released his Seeing Through Sound.
“It was his great joy to be able to compose and produce music until the end. We thank all those who contributed to ensuring that he was able to continue expressing his ideas through his final days and maintain a quality end of life,” Hassell’s family said.
“As Jon is now free of a constricting body, he is liberated to be in his musical soul and will continue to play in the Fourth World. We hope you find solace in his words and dreams for this earthly place he now leaves behind. We hold him, and you, in this loss and grief.”