Julius Eastman’s Crazy Nigger (1978? 1979?) was given its West Coast premiere last night at REDCAT.  Three members of California EAR Unit gave up their usual instruments (flute, cello, percussion) for the piano to join their pianist Vicki Ray in giving the work its four-piano interpretation.  While the score doesn’t specify a particular instrumental combination, it was recorded by Eastman with four pianos, and this recording was the one that brought the work to the public.  It would be interesting to hear Crazy Nigger in a different configuration, but it would certainly take more than four musicians to give the sonorities so central to the work.

It would have been interesting to have heard this last year in association with the minimalist festival, and the performance of In C in particular.  Eastman worked for something very different from Riley, and he gave the performers both more freedom and more structure.  Structure was provided by specifying notes to be added, in sequence, and by stating specific times for moving from section to section in the work. (Each pianist had a clock by the score.)  The players had freedom, or the ensemble had freedom, to decide how to provide the notes.  The work begins like In C, with a repeated sequence of the pitch; instead of adding melodic cells, however, Crazy Nigger builds sonority.  First, the core tone is supplemented by that note in different octaves.  Then, gradually, another tone is added.  The color changes.  Another tone.  Another.  The sound becomes three-dimensional, not quite solid, but shifting and shimmering.  Finally, for the climax of the work, six additional pianists stepped on stage one by one, going to a keyboard to add six additional pitches to the structure.  Fifty-five minutes have seldom seemed so short.  The EAR Unit deserve a lot of credit for their interpretation.  With the audience seated so that they could see the hands of all four pianists, it was easy to see which person took a little longer to make sure that her hands were correctly placed for the right note, but their interpretation used the skills of each and used them well. 

I think I saw Alex Ross; his blog this morning shows a photo with the wall of Disney Hall and the coral tree in the garden, so I know he was in town.  Perhaps he’ll comment.


14 Responses to “Last Night in L.A.: Four Pianos for Eastman”
  1. JW says:

    I would hardly call JW anonymous. It stands for John Williams. Happy to share! Thanks very much for the scores!

  2. Sarah Cahill says:

    If you happen to be in Newcastle, England next month, you can hear Joe Kubera, who worked with Eastman, performing Evil Nigger as part of the Arika Festival. His concert is on May 11th.

  3. Chris Becker says:

    Guilt? You’re the one who is posting anonymously, JW.

    Come on down to one of my concerts and share your “terms” with my band sometime. What kind of reaction do you think you’ll get?

    Good night.

  4. JW says:

    Hey, I’m black, I can say that! At least it was the rule yesterday. Who knows, everyday is different. Plus, I’m going to hear Eastman’s piece. Lighten up, give the white guilt a rest! It’s the suppression of terms that gives them power.

  5. david toub says:

    With MJ’s permission, I took her individual score images and put them together into separate PDFs. The scores are here.

  6. Chris Becker says:

    JW’s comment is probably some misguided kid trying to be funny. I run into this sort of “humor” a lot actually as a white person and it never ceases to make my skin crawl. Unfortuantely, I’ve encountered a lot of racist language and humor in music conservatory settings – usually because the people making such statements think that because I’m a white I’ll somehow empathize with them.

    At the risk of taking the bait, Jerry – can you remove JW’s comment? If no, I respect and understand that – this is your site. But then please keep my comment which is “JW – I hope you one day understand how offensive these sort of comments masquerading as humor can be.”



  7. JW says:

    What did you say? Crazy what? Somebody needs to get fired. Can you fire a blogger? Does CBS own Blogger? I hope so. I’m calling Johnny Cochran. Oh wait, he’s, unavailable. Al Sharpton, I’m calling Al Sharpton. That conk-headed nigga’s crazy, but i hear he’s a Downtown fan… Just for that I’m titling my next orchestral work The Explosion of Crackertoa, so there.

    (anonymous, presently running from the p.c. po-po…)

  8. david toub says:

    MJ, I can put these into a set of PDFs for you once I get around to it. Thanks very much for your great efforts on behalf of JE’s music!

  9. Alex Ross says:

    Yes, this was a great experience (you should have said hello, Jerry!) and I will write it up when I have the time — I’m dealing with one or two recent developments at the LA Phil. I confess I had a hard time getting to know Eastman’s music on the CDs because I couldn’t differentiate the various sonorities. Here it was wonderfully spatial and the resonances were often breathtaking. And the ending, with the auxiliary pianists rising from their seats one by one, was incredibly dramatic. Peter Sellars was there, taking a break from final preparations for “Tristan” upstairs, and pronounced it “cosmic.”

  10. Here are the missing links. I hope to eventually make pdf’s of the score, but that’s time I don’t have right now.




  11. david toub says:

    Thanks, MJ—I had missed that on your site. Any chance Eastman’s music could be placed as a series of PDFs rather than jpegs of each page? Might be more easily disseminated, which it deserves.

  12. Well, since you asked. 😉 You can always order Julius’s cd directly from New World Records , or Archiv Music . In the small world catgegory, Paul Tai, who runs New World, used to run the classical department at Tower, where he hired Julius, as well as Jon Feidner, who runs Archiv (and is the son of my theatre professor from college). Not sure if they all worked together at the same time.

    For anyone interested in seeing “Crazy Nigger,” a while back, I managed to scan in “Crazy Nigger: and posted it on my site.

    I’m so please to hear that the performance went well last night – kudus to the Ear Unit.

  13. Chris Becker says:

    Where can I buy recordings of Julius Eastman’s music? Buy – not download for free or download as a crummy mp3.

    I see some stores on the net, but does Mary Jane Leach recommend a particular vendor for the CD she compiled of his music.

    I can’t wait to hear this stuff…thanks for posting Jerry…


  14. david toub says:

    Just by coincidence, I’m listening to Evil Nigger right now while I wait for a delayed flight at PHL. CN is up next…