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Timeline: Julius Eastman Part 4 - Femenine

Richard Valitutto is the pianist and keyboardist for the new music ensemble Wild Up. This photo was taken at Sunset Sound during Wild Up's recording session for their second album dedicated to the music of Juilius Eastman, "Joy Boy".
Jenna Putnam
Wild Up - New Amsterdam Records
Richard Valitutto is the pianist and keyboardist for the new music ensemble Wild Up. This photo was taken at Sunset Sound during Wild Up's recording session for their second album dedicated to the music of Juilius Eastman, "Joy Boy".

We’re at part four of our ten part series exploring the life and legacy of Julius Eastman, an openly gay, Black composer that died nearly forgotten, penniless and homeless in 1990; nearly forgotten that is, until now.

John: What's interesting now is, in 2022, all of the musicians who are improvisers, jazz artists, classically trained, are diving into this music and kind of realizing it in their own varied way. Because that's what Julius allowed.

James: That’s John Killacky, former executive director of the Flynn Center, and the author of a recent article about Eastman.

John: This year. It's been amazing. The Wild Up group in Los Angeles has committed to a seven part anthology of his music. And last year they did the first part and it was an incredible symphony called Femenine. And the New York Times talked about it as a masterpiece.

Christopher: Eastman was one of the first composers that really, we felt like somehow there was some kind of kinship..

James: This is Christopher Rountree, the artistic director and conductor of the new music group, Wild Up. As an ensemble, Wild Up plays just about everything; from 20th century music, ancient works, premieres. Their work rides the line between theater and performance art, pop and classical.

Richard: I think Eastman wasn’t coming to any public awareness until 15 years after his death, with the release of Unjust Malaise on New World Records.

James: And that’s the pianist and keyboardist for Wildup, Richard Valitutto.

Richard: At that time, already, you could get your hands on some PDFs of the scores. But that was mainly because of the work Mary Jane Leach had done.

James: We spoke with Mary Jane in our last episode. She produced a three-cd set of Eastman’s music called Unjust Malaise which is an anagram of Julius’ name.

Richard: Some of the things that Eastman seemed to be doing in the pieces on that record were very much in line with what the group ethos had become; somewhere between classical, art, jazz, pop worlds… kind of a very focused and sort of uncompromising aesthetic concerns, while at the same time, clearly encouraging a lot of improvisation and creativity and just sheer wildness and abandon.

Christopher: One of the things that we realized after doing Femenine, was that we wanted to do iterative performances. So on one record having multiple performances of the same piece.

John: They did two pieces twice. One was called “Touch Him When,” and the one track of it has magnificent placid minimalism with the strings going on. They do it a second time and it's guitars and it's a heavy metal version of the same piece.

Christopher: So we have, you know, multiple versions of “Touch Him When” already from our guitarist, Jiji, we're planning multiple versions of “Gay Guerilla” as well.

James: Both volume one and volume two ofWild Up’s seven part anthology of Eastman’s music are available on New Amsterdam records.

John: That these classically trained artists are trying to work on this and bring this work back. We're all the richer for it.

James: That’s just a taste of what ensembles are doing with Eastman’s music today. In our next installment, we’ll speak with someone who knew Julius’ music at the time it was written and first premiered. Stay tuned follow the Timeline.

Special thanks to Myra Flynn for help in editing this entire series for Timeline.

James Stewart is Vermont Public Classical's afternoon host. As a composer, he is interested in many different genres of music; writing for rock bands, symphony orchestras and everything in between.