On the Town
Celebrating the genius of Julius Eastman
BY ELIZABETH LICATA
Julius Eastman grew up in Ithaca,
New York. A musical prodigy in singing, piano, and ballet, he studied piano
and composition at Philadelphia’s Curtis Institute, and came to Buffalo in the
late sixties to participate in UB’s burgeoning new music scene. Eastman’s
composition took elements from Mini-malism, but added other rhythms, har-monies, and improvisational elements
that put him well ahead of his time.
Eastman composed some of his most
groundbreaking works (though many
of his compositions have since been
lost) in Buffalo. He moved to New York
in the late seventies and took part in
the Lower East Side art scene, where,
for a time, his collaborations and per-
formances continued. Problems with
substance abuse and failure to get reli-
able employment led to intermittent
homelessness and a downward spiral
throughout the eighties that culminat-
ed in his death at forty-nine.
Eastman’s work is finally enjoying a
long-awaited revival, with the help of
people like composer/performer Mary
Ann Leach, who worked for years to
collect as much of Eastman’s musical
legacy as she could and helped organize
CD releases of his work, including
Unjust Malaise (New World Records,
2005). More recently, there have been
performances and a book of essays, Gay
Guerilla (2015), edited by Leach and
René Levine Packer.
This month, the Burchfield Penney
Art Center pays tribute to Eastman
with a talk by Packer, an exhibition of
photography and scores, and performances of Eastman compositions by
Amy Knoles, Buffalo Chamber Ensemble, and Buffluxus. It takes place February 10, as part of BPAC’s Second Friday
programming and is sure to be a revelation to those who never knew this fascinating artist.
Elizabeth Licata is editor of Spree.
At the height of his career, he collaborated with Meredith
Monk, Pierre Boulez, Lukas Foss, John Cage, and other
icons of the musical avant garde, but when he died in 1990
in Millard Fillmore Hospital, Julius Eastman—and his
groundbreaking compositions—were nearly forgotten. It took
eight months for an obituary to appear, as most who knew
the composer didn’t even realize he was dead.
Performance shots of Julius Eastman