I thought I’d never live to see the day that more than three hours of Julius Eastman’s music would be commercially available. But today is that day, for New World’s three-disc set of archival recordings (New World 80638-2) – titled Unjust Malaise, an anagram of Eastman’s name – is now in my hands. In case you haven’t been tuned in to the recent buzz, Eastman (1940-1990) was a gay African-American whose rivetingly powerful postminimalist music confronted issues of race and sexual identity, and who died under rather mysterious circumstances at the age of 49. (He died at Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo, but the cause of death remains maddeningly vague. Some assume he had AIDS – the family says not so.)
The New World set contains, in its entirety, a January, 1980, concert at Northwestern University at which I was present as a grad student, including three pieces for multiple pianos – Gay Guerrilla, Evil Nigger, and Crazy Nigger – along with Eastman’s own remarkable spoken introduction. Also here are his early signature piece Stay On It, which the Buffalo Creative Associates toured all over Europe in the ’70s, plus If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich? and The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc. Rich, powerful stuff, based on Eastman’s “organic” conception of music whereby new information is gradually added to a repeating sequence as old information is gradually taken away. And the copious liner notes are by moi – I was surprised, thinking back, to realize how many encounters I had with Eastman between 1974 and ’89. He was a friend of my grad-school composition teacher Peter Gena, but I knew him even before I knew Peter, from appearances at Oberlin (with Petr Kotik) and, notoriously, at June in Buffalo 1975. Naturally, Eastman will be Postclassic Radio‘s Composer-of-the-Month for Nov. 16 to Dec. 15 (hey, at Postclassic Radio we think outside the box) as soon as I can load up Crazy Nigger here, and I’ve got some other archival performances to play not on the New World set.
Photo of Eastman in Perugia, 1974, by Peter Gena.