Jon Hassell tribute
photo by C. Daniel Dawson
interview by Jason Gross
PSF: What did you think of Jon's work before you met him?
AR: I was aware of his work and I always found it to be really interesting and fascinating. He had his own voice and I thought he had a really unique direction.
PSF: How did you come to first work with Jon?
AR: I did a recording with a friend of mine named Hassan Hakmoun called Gift of the Gnawa in 1988 and Richard Horowitz played on it and this was in New York. When I went back to Los Angeles, Richard suggested that I give Jon a call or else he gave Jon my number. Jon and I spoke on the phone and based on our phone call, he asked me if I wanted to go on a tour with him in Italy in a few weeks. And I said, "sure, great!"
That first tour [November 1988] was special because that was a group I really loved playing with- Jon, myself and J.A. Deane and Jean-Philippe Rykiel. At that time, I was playing all acoustic percussion. It was pretty incredible. I played some recordings that Jon sent me of that music. It was a really fabulous group.
And then when he came back to Los Angeles, he was living not that far from me. He decided to try another direction. So I might have been one of the first people he put together for that group for City: Works Of Fiction, which was the first record I did with him. We had that group put together a few years before we recorded that, with varying personnel. At that time, we also did the World Trade Center concert [NYC, September 16, 1989]. That was the group that recorded City also.
PSF: How was he different on stage vs. the studio?
AR: No different from how I would find working in the studio and performing live for anybody. Live, there's a quality of things unfolding in the moment. There's the energy of the audience. There's a certain kind of focus- hearing everything and seeing everybody in a different way. So some of those qualities carry over. You can try and bring some spontaneity and life to a recorded situation but you always have the opportunity to go back and do things again and overdub and so on.
Working with Jon in both settings was always gratifying and I always learned a lot.
PSF: When you recorded City with Jon, did anything stand out for you about the process?
AR: We were performing together with that ensemble and then we would get together at Jon's house and just play and try different things and bring in different things. Jon and I used to talk a lot about music too. I learned some interesting things from him. He said that learned from Stockhausen about working with intervals. We had shared a real interest in raga. I had studied tabla for 20 years by then and knew about North Indian classical music. He was also very interested in Africa music. He had just been working with Farafina and I actually introduced him to the music of Alhadji Haruna Ishola and his Apala group And Chief Adedara Arunraloojaoba and his Adamo group and from there, he recorded that piece "Out Of Adedara," which was kind of influenced by listening to that. And then I actually brought in a piece of music. I think I'm one of the only people on any of his to ever compose anything [with him], other than standards. I brought in this piece we ended up calling "Mombasa" and he really liked it and he developed it for the group. So that was really fun.
So the thing about sharing information- the musicians in the group came from really different backgrounds. Incredible guitar player, Gregg Arreguin, had been playing with Morris Day. Dan Schwartz was an astounding bass player. Jeff Rona [keyboards] had come from the film world.
So what was interesting about doing that record was in the process, Jon asked me to start using electronic percussion and not just acoustic percussion. I had studied and composed a lot of electronic music in the mid-'70's with ARP 2600 [synthesizer] and Buchla's and Moog's but I really hadn't done anything with electronics [for percussion] and Jeff Rona was teaching me how to use an Akai 100 [sampler]. And Jon bought me a drum KAT to use, which is a trigger pad. And so I was learning how to work with samples on the fly. The samples we used were really interesting because they were all samples of myself. We had gone in the studio and recorded my own playing, so it was really interesting to combine that with my acoustic playing. I'm really grateful for that opportunity because that really opened me back up to those possibilities.
And then I got busy working more with Pharaoh Sanders and Yusef Lateef and my own groups and wasn't as available so Jon went on and starting working with Peter [Freeman].
PSF: How did you get to work with him for Dressing for Pleasure?
AR: After the City group disbanded, I started touring in a duet with Jon. And that was really interesting. I was running a couple of different kind of sequencers and drum machines, playing acoustic percussion and processing it myself and mixing it all myself and sending a stereo mix out of my mixing board to Jon, who would mix it in his mixing board with his sounds. So we never even needed a mixing engineer in the house. We did a bunch of tours. The last one we did was where Harold Budd was playing solo.
I would come over to Jon's house and work on and prepare for the concerts, and he always recorded it. So on Dressing With Pleasure, my part of it is from a recording of one of our rehearsals. And he liked it enough that he put it on the album [the track "Blue Night"].
And by the way, I'm listed as playing on his last release ["Timeless" from Seeing Through Sound] and it must also be from some archival things that he had because I didn't play anything new with him. I couldn't quite place what it was.
PSF: How would you describe Jon on a personal level?
AR: Well, the thing that I admired most about Jon was, and it was something that I think had an influence on me (and was true of the other great elder musicians I had the opportunity to work with) was that he had his own vison of his music and he pursued it. He said something to me once that I repeat all the time- 'you shoot the arrow and paint the bullseye around it.' What that meant for me as an artist was that if you had a vision, and you're an evolutionary-orientated artist, you have to pursue that vision, even if you have to be not sure where it's leading it. He defined his own space in the world creatively and really had the courageousness to be true to that. And that for me, that's the most important thing that I gleaned from him because I try to do that myself. That's how I feel that you can respect an older musician who's had an influence on you.
PSF: What's Jon's legacy?
AR: You got to answer that question yourself! I'm a musician- what do I know about it? (laughs)
What resonates in the world doesn't necessarily have anything to do with what Jon contributed because he had his vision. To have the imagination and the intuition and to find your way- you're not going on the super highway or the trail through the woods, you're making your own way through and you don't even know where you're going. That takes a certain kind of courageousness and trust of your own intuition and be open to inspiration and also being studious.
What I like about Jon was that I would bring a lot of music that I was into that he hadn't really heard before and he was really interested and open to it. There was a lot of exchange of ideas. I think he was one of a few people- the other two being my other two mentors, Don Cherry and Yusef Lateef- who had opened up their minds and spirit with a kind of humility to all kinds of 'world music' (which is not even a correct term). It takes a certain kind of humility and openness to sit with someone like Pandit Pran Nath and be studious. It's that kind of musicians like to work with and I call them 'research and development' musicians. And he was all about that. We shared that long-time interest in Indian music and openness.
So he had this openness but then he really had his focus and groundation of what it is you're trying to pursue. And he was, like a lot of musicians I know, relentless about it. He understood the seriousness of the joy of following your own path and finding your own path. So my hope is that he'll be acknowledged for the innovator that he was.
Hear Adam Rudolph's music at his Bandcamp site.
See the rest of our 2nd part of our Jon Hassell tribute
Also see the 1st part of our Jon Hassell tribute, with additional interviews and more
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