(1941–2021) Lived and worked in South Jamaica, Queens.
Milford Graves was a percussionist, acupuncturist, herbalist, martial artist, programmer, and professor. A pioneer of free Jazz, Graves was a member of the New York Art Quartet, whose iconic first recording in 1964 featured LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) reading his poem "Black Dada Nihilismus." In 1967, he played at John Coltrane’s funeral.
A consummate autodidact with a syncretic approach, Graves invented a martial art form called Yara based on the movements of the Praying Mantis, African ritual dance, and Lindy Hop in 1972. Shortly thereafter, Graves joined the Black Music Division at Bennington College, where he taught for 39 years.
In 2000 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and began to study human heart vibrations to better understand music’s healing potential, and in 2015 he received the Doris Duke Foundation Impact Award. He is the subject of a critically acclaimed, feature-length documentary, Milford Graves Full Mantis (2018), directed by his former student, Jake Meginsky, with Neil Young. In 2017, he premiered his sculpture work at The Artist’s Institute, and went on to show his visual art at the Queens Museum in 2018. A retrospective of his work, Milford Graves; A Mind-Body Deal was shown at ICA Philadelphia in 2020.
Additional notable recordings include In Concert At Yale University (with Don Pullen, 1966); Dialogue of the Drums (with Andrew Cyrille, 1974); Babi (1977); Meditation Among Us (1977); Real Deal (with David Murray, 1992); Grand Unification (1998); Beyond Quantum (with Anthony Braxton and William Parker, 2008); and Space/Time Redemption (with Bill Laswell, 2014).
Known to most as "Professor," he was diagnosed with a rare heart disease, amyloid cardiomyopathy, and was given six months to live in 2018. A healer and lifelong student of the human heartbeat, he continued to research his condition until he passed away 2021, to the grief of his wide community of students, collaborators, and peers.
Milford Graves, Singular Drummer and Polymath, Dies at 79
The New York Times
February 19, 2021
September 25, 2020
The New York Times
August 5, 2020