Profile by Alexander Tada ’24E
John Hasselback III, a current doctoral candidate in jazz trumpet performance at the Eastman School of Music, recalls being sick on a birthday in elementary school when his parents insisted on taking him to a concert. “I didn’t want to be at this thing,” he recalls.
“Then I heard the trumpet player and was like, ‘wow’ …it made up for being carted around when you’re not feeling so great on your birthday.”
That trumpet player was the jazz great Maynard Ferguson. The concert was one of the catalysts for a career of intergenerational music-making.
Most recently, Hasselback’s notably well-established career has materialized in his participation in the recording and production of jazz drummer John Bacon’s newest album, Revolution Blues. Released in September of this year, Revolution Blues features Bacon’s Revolution Blues Suite, in addition to a number of Bacon’s other original jazz compositions. The ensemble responsible for bringing this project to life in the studio is a diverse, multigenerational group of musicians hailing from Rochester’s neighboring city, Buffalo, of which John Hasselback III is the youngest member.
Revolution Blues, as well as Hasselback’s own debut release Entrance, are currently available across all streaming platforms, and available for purchase online. For those in the Eastman community and beyond, Hasselback can be heard live on November 6th and December 4th, 2023 at 7:30 p.m., performing in Kilbourn Hall with the Eastman Jazz Ensemble.
A native of Buffalo, New York, Hasselback’s parents and grandfather are professional jazz musicians, and his great-grandfather rubbed shoulders with NYC Jazz greats. He remembers being packed into the family car with his siblings to go to his parents’ gigs, and subsequently hearing and meeting some of the heaviest-hitting players in the jazz scene. It was at one of his parents’ events that he would hear and meet bassist Nat Reeves for the first time, who taught his parents and, subsequently, him. Hasselback remembers, “He had the cleanest suit on, was walking out of the school with his bass and he came up and talked to us, and then, I just was like, ‘I want to be like that guy.’”
Following in his parents’ footsteps, Hasselback attended the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford on a full scholarship to study with Reeves, where he began to start building his experience as a working jazz musician. After his time at Hartt, he moved to New York City to study at Purchase College at the State University of New York for his graduate studies and began working in the NYC jazz scene, where his life between school and gigs around the city was a hectic one.
“I moved my car all the time,” Hasselback says, “you know—go to school, move your car, go to the jazz club and work until around four in the morning, get home, sleep for a couple hours then repeat it all again. It was good to keep busy.”
Hasselback continued his work around NYC in various performing gigs and recording production jobs until the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. With the sudden absence of live performances created by the pandemic, his mentor and former professor at SUNY Purchase, Jon Faddis, suggested considering going back to school as it would help him in finding work as a teacher. He took Faddis’ advice to heart, and that decision is what brought him to Eastman.
What particularly drew Hasselback to Eastman was his interest in mentorship within jazz and the academic rigor. He specifically cites his relationships – in class and performance – with Professors Clay Jenkins, Dave Rivello, Rich Thompson, and Dariusz Terefenko. He also credits Professor Emeritus Bill Dobbins as being profoundly impactful, inspiring him to be an even more passionate and generous musician. Hasselback already applies what he’s learned at Eastman as a mentor himself, serving currently as an Instructor of Applied Music and Ensembles at Syracuse University and Instructor of Jazz Trumpet at Eastern Mennonite University.