This article examines the improvisative activities of the gay Black composer-vocalist Julius Eastman (1940–90), whose life and works have lent themselves in recent years to efforts to diversify histories of experimentalism and new music. These initiatives have obscured the fact that Eastman repeatedly engaged with jazz improvisation, a subject about which the secondary literature is mostly silent. Guided by George Lewis’s theorization of “Afrological” and “Eurological” improvisative modes, I examine a series of moments in Eastman’s improvisative trajectory that resist subsumption under either pole. Inasmuch as his improvisative work turned on an identity-affirming, self-expressive “Romantic ideal” that was in fashion with neither Eurological, post-Cagean experimentalism nor Afrological “loft” jazz, his engagements with both tended to lead to impasse. This suggests the utility of a third term, the “heterological.” I argue that Eastman’s heterological improvisative practice followed the logic of disidentification, or minoritarian recodings of hegemonic, exclusionary social texts. The article also explores the progressive radicalization of Eastman’s heterology, and his eventual renunciation of music-improvisative identity work. By the mid-1980s, Eastman was instead embracing practices of self-shattering and sacrifice, one goal of which was to place himself, literally, beyond historical recovery. The transgressive heterology of his personal life, and his profound indifference to archivization, pose deep challenges to musicology’s impulse to “recover” marginalized figures. Eastman’s ultimate rejection of futurity unsettles the grounds for meaningful historiographical identification with his past, since it is by no means clear that our present is any future he would have ever wished to inhabit.

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