In late 1981 or early 1982, the composer and vocalist Julius Eastman was evicted from his apartment in New York City. City marshals placed his belongings on the sidewalk, including all of his scores, and Eastman walked away, leaving everything behind. After years of drifting in and out of homeless shelters and bumming money from friends, he died in a hospital in Buffalo in May of 1990. The first obituary, by Kyle Gann in the Village Voice, appeared nine months later.

Today there is a renewed interest in Eastman and his work. The composer and writer Mary Jane Leach, who produced a compilation of his music called “Unjust Malaise” in 2005, has edited a new book about him, with Renée Levine Parker, called Gay Guerilla: Julius Eastman and His Music. Leach has also been collecting and preserving Eastman’s scores, maintaining an archive on her website. In mid-September, the Frozen Reeds label will release a live recording of his 1974 composition “Femenine.” Jan Williams, a percussionist and member of both the Creative Associates and the S.E.M. Ensemble who worked extensively with Eastman in the early 1970s, said this resurgence of interest is “long overdue. He was a very gifted composer but a very complex person. Sad that more of his scores are not extant.”

The release of “Femenine” provides a lost link in Eastman’s work; it’s a pivotal point between earlier compositions like “Thruway” (1970) or “Stay On It” (1973) and the later “Nigger” series (1978-79). The “Nigger” series and other pieces are good examples of the provocative humor that Eastman sometimes used. “Nigger Faggot,” “Crazy Nigger,” and “If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich?” show how Eastman liked to provoke his audience before the concert had even began. (The Bowerbird series in Philadelphia last year censored their posters so as not to cause too much of a public outcry, though the self-censoring of the poster was an excellent marketing move in and of itself.) “Femenine” represents the beginning of the end of Eastman’s career in upstate New York. He relocated to New York City in 1976 where he continued to work for a few more years, both on his own projects and with others, such as Meredith Monk, Arthur Russell, and the New York Philharmonic under Boulez, to name just a few.

The score for “Femenine” is barely more than a sketch, a scant four and a half pages long for 72 minutes of music. There are timing indicators, some notated variations on the theme, and some written instructions along the lines of “displace” with an arrow or “move back and hold.” It almost doesn’t seem like enough to produce a piece as compelling as “Femenine.”

The work starts with a few minutes of the pulse, in this case a motorized tambourine, while the band warms up. The theme is introduced a few minutes in and is almost as simple as one can imagine: twelve repeated sixteenth notes, eighth, quarter, eighth, quarter, eighth, eighth tied to a dotted whole note. It’s just enough syncopation for the piece to sit in a deep pocket, a groove unmatched in classical music in 1974.

Like many early Eastman compositions, “Femenine” does not have a fixed instrumentation. The constant pulse is similar to the pulse in Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians,” which premiered two years later. Via email, Leach said, “Reich’s pieces and Julius’s pieces are similar in the way that Gregorian chant and Byzantine are—one is pretty rigid, and the other is looser…rigid vs. breathable. There is the fluidity of jazz and a swing that is missing from, especially, Reich.”

From an interview with performer Seth Parker Wood of Wild Up:

What makes Eastman’s music more relevant today as increasing attention is given to underrepresentation in classical music?

To be very honest, his music should have been more relevant and celebrated in his time, but alas, many of the same “gate keeper” systems surrounding the classical sphere are alive and well today. Eastman’s relevance is based on his authenticity and willingness to bare all of himself in his work and try out different idioms, whether they be blues sonorities, liturgical quotations, or Patti Smith-inspired bass lines. He wasn’t afraid to use popular music inflections in his work, and that type of risk-taking in our field–combined with an absolute mastery and understanding of harmony, tension and form–is what makes his music successful. He embraced genre-fluidity for the sake of expression that didn’t come off as forced, and that is why so many have flocked to him. He has inspired a new breed of artists, and his very existence shows that someone of the past renounced the cages of a system we’ve all been taught, and succeeded in doing what we are now attempting at this very moment.

However, it is not lost of me that he wasn’t the only one creating such genre-fluid music in his time, but Eastman’s entire persona is woven throughout his work, and that seems to be what the public has lauded and embraced. As overdue attention is being directed towards underrepresented creative groups and individuals, I think it’s important that the public resist boxing their outputs into something from the inherited canon. These creative’s works are their own, and are innovations based on their present and past histories. I urge those in the field and those supporting the arts to experience it through that lens, and try not to label it as a second-rate imitation.