Milford Graves

Vibration

Milford Graves at Bartram's Garden, Philadelphia, 2014

Milford Graves doesn’t play the drums to keep time for the band. Emerging in the 1960s with free jazz pioneers including Albert Ayler, Sonny Sharrock, and Giuseppi Logan, he opened up percussion to a no-holds-barred celebration of its full vibratory potential. This was not a drummer-in-the-back situation, but one where the drums could sing like nothing else. Graves is a master of African polyrhythms (he can play multiple contrasting beats at once) and his early studies on the Indian tabla and Latin-jazz timbalas give his playing a truly international sound. As a bandmate, he moves freely among musicians working in diverse styles.

A couple of things are important to Graves when he plays. One is working the skins of the drums, drawing out the micro-vibrations, or the minute shifts in tone that come in between the thump of a basic beat. The second is that Graves loves improvisation; his best playing hinges on making contact with the room. Before a concert, he takes a minute to get in tune with the murmuring voices of his audience and plays off that.

Graves is not only a storied percussionist; he also works as an acupuncturist. His latest project brings the two passions together, establishing an energetic connection between music and the natural rhythms of the body. Once when treating a friend who had a heart arrhythmia, Graves made a recording of his heartbeat and played back a beat sympathetic in tone but regularly paced. When the two beats synced up, he realized he was on to something. Since then, he’s developed what he calls “biological music, a synthesis of the physical and mental, a mind-body deal.” Graves sees healing potential in exposing the body to frequencies adjusted to its needs, and scientists seem to agree. In 2016, his name was published alongside a group of biologists in Bologna who are measuring how his vibrational signatures affect the gene and protein expression of stem cells.

Graves’ first concert at the Institute will involve biological music, incorporating live feedback and heart monitors. His course continues with a public conversation with the music critic John Corbett, whose 2016 book Microgroove discusses Graves’s work at length. Graves is also building a sculpture –– one of only a few he has realized –– that riffs on the body’s energy pathways and the heart’s vibratory signature. Made with equipment lying around his studio, including parts of an acupuncture dummy and a heart monitoring device, the work figures the body as a complex system intimately connected to its environment.

Biography

Milford Graves is a percussionist, acupuncturist, herbalist, martial artist, programmer, and professor. In 1945 Graves started playing on some odd drums left at his parents’ house by a tenant (he still rarely plays with a kit). In 1964 he met the New York Art Quartet at Michael Snow’s loft for an impromptu rehearsal and they asked him to join. He famously held court five nights straight, three sets a night, with Albert Ayler at Slugs in 1967. On July 21st of that same year, he played at John Coltrane’s funeral, and Dizzy Gillespie, who couldn’t see the balcony where the band was, asked loudly, “Who’s on drums?” Mention his name to anyone who follows free jazz, and they know him from recordings like Albert Ayler’s Love Cry and Sonny Sharrock’s Black Woman, as well as his concerts with Paul Bley and Don Pullen. In 1972 he invented a martial art called Yara based on the movements of the Praying Mantis, African ritual dance, and Lindy Hop. In 2000 he won a Guggenheim Fellowship and began to study human heart vibrations to better understand music’s healing potential. He received the 2015 Doris Duke Foundation Impact Award. Graves is Professor Emeritus at Bennington College, where he taught for forty years. Many of his former students still visit him in his basement office and studio in Jamaica, Queens, a space where his grandparents once had a community social club.

“Speaking in Tongues,” 1982, dir. Doug Harris

Future Events:

December 16, 4pm

Milford Graves in Conversation with John Corbett

Past Events:

November 12, 3pm, RSVP

Heartbeat Concert

Milford Graves doesn’t play the drums to keep time for the band. Emerging in the 1960s as a free jazz pioneer, he opened up percussion to a no-holds-barred celebration of its full vibratory potential. Graves latest work establishes a connection between the vibrations of the drums and the rhythms of the human heart, something he calls “biological music, a synthesis of the physical and mental, a mind-body deal.”

On Sunday, October 15th, The Artists Institute will present a concert and live recording of Milford Graves playing with William Parker and Shahzad Ismaily. As part of this historic event, Graves will speak about his relationship to vibration and music, incorporating his sculpture Beyond Polymath and the beating of a human heart.

This event is sold out.

October 15, 3pm, RSVP

Heartbeat Concert

Milford Graves doesn’t play the drums to keep time for the band. Emerging in the 1960s as a free jazz pioneer, he opened up percussion to a no-holds-barred celebration of its full vibratory potential. Graves latest work establishes a connection between the vibrations of the drums and the rhythms of the human heart, something he calls “biological music, a synthesis of the physical and mental, a mind-body deal.”

On Sunday, October 15th, The Artists Institute will present a concert and live recording of Milford Graves playing with William Parker and Shahzad Ismaily. As part of this historic event, Graves will speak about his relationship to vibration and music, incorporating his sculpture Beyond Polymath and the beating of a human heart.

This event is sold out.