Jon Hassell dies aged 84

The avant-garde composer pioneered the musical concept known as ‘Fourth World’.

US composer and trumpeter Jon Hassell has died. The influential Memphis-born musician passed away on Saturday (26 June) aged 84. Hassell’s family confirmed his passing in a statement shared to Facebook over the weekend.

“After a little more than a year of fighting through health complications, Jon died peacefully in the early morning hours of natural causes,” they wrote. “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 is best known as the inventor of ‘Fourth World’ music. Hassell had previously described it as “a unified primitive/futuristic sound combining features of world ethnic styles with advanced electronic techniques”. He later dubbed it: “metaclassical and metapop.”

Hassell released his debut album Vernal Equinox in 1978. While the record is considered the first of Hassell’s Fourth World explorations, the actual term arrived in 1980, on Hassell’s first collaboration with English musician and ambient innovator Brian Eno, Fourth World Vol. 1: Possible Musics. Hassell also collaborated with the likes of Talking Heads, Tears for Fears and Peter Gabriel.

In April 2020, a GoFundMe was launched in support of Hassell and his “long-term health issues”. 

“Jon Hassell is one of the most influential composers of the last 50 years,” said Brian Eno on the GoFundMe page. “His invention of what he called ‘4th World Music’ opened the way for a fresh look at, and deeper respect for, the music of other cultures around the world. His recordings have had a big impact on other musicians, and, through them, have changed musical tastes dramatically. His unique intellectual contribution is also noteworthy: he is a tireless and articulate theorist as well as a great musician.”

“Jon is going through hard times now,” Eno added. “I feel that many of us owe him a debt of gratitude, so perhaps making a contribution to this fund is a way we can thank him.”

In their statement, Hassell’s family states that these donations “will allow the tremendous personal archive of his music, much unreleased, to be preserved and shared with the world for years to come.”

A selection of artists, musicians and fans have paid tribute to Hassell’s life and works. BBC Radio 6 Music broadcaster Mary Anne Hobbs tweeted: “I am deeply saddened to hear of the passing Jon Hassell at the age 84. He created a beautiful, unfettered and otherworldly magic with his trumpet.”

Read the full statement from Hassell’s family below, and revisit his debut album Vernal Equinox.