Milford Graves

Milford Graves (born August 20, 1941 in Queens, New York)[1] is an American jazz drummer, percussionist, professor, scientist,[2] and inventor, most noteworthy for his early avant-garde contributions in the early 1960s with Paul Bley and the New York Art Quartet alongside John Tchicai, Roswell Rudd, and Reggie Workman. He is considered to be a free jazz pioneer, liberating the percussion from its timekeeping role. In fact, many of his music contemporaries, musician inspirees, and fans worldwide would argue that Graves is perhaps the most influential known musician in the development and continuing evolution of free-jazz/avant-garde music, to date. Graves taught at Bennington College, in Bennington, Vermont, as a full-time professor from 1973 until 2011, when he was awarded Emeritus status.[3]

Milford Graves
Background information
Born (1941-08-20) 20 August 1941
Jamaica, Queens, New York, United States
GenresJazz, free jazz, avant-garde jazz, world music
Occupation(s)musician, herbalist, acupuncturist, college professor
InstrumentsDrums, percussion, timbales, conga drums, vocals,
LabelsESP, Prestige, Fontana, RCA, Tzadik
Associated actsAlbert Ayler, New York Art Quartet, Paul Bley, Don Pullen


Initially playing timbales as a kid growing up in Queens, Graves has worked as a sideman and session musician with a variety of jazz musicians throughout his career, including Pharoah Sanders, Rashied Ali, Albert Ayler, Don Pullen, Kenny Clarke, Don Moye, Andrew Cyrille, Philly Joe Jones, Eddie Gómez, and John Zorn.[1] He has invested his time in research within the field of healing through music.[4]

In the 1960s, Graves invented a form of martial art called "Yara", based on the movements of the Praying Mantis, an African ritual dance. Yara means "nimbleness" in the Yoruba language.[5]

In 2013, Graves along with Drs. Carlo Tremolada and Carlo Ventura received a patent for an invention that relates to a process of preparing a non-expanded tissue derivative, that is not subjected to cell proliferation in vitro, which has a vascular-stromal fraction enriched in stem and multipotent elements, such as pericytes and/or mesenchymal stem cells, or for preparing non-embryonic stem cells obtained from a tissue sample or from such tissue derivative, wherein the tissue derivative or such cells are subjected to vibrations derived from a heart sound to control the degree of differentiation or possible differentiation of the stem and multipotent elements into several other types of cells and optimize their potency. The invention relates also to a device for carrying out the process, to stem cells obtainable by the process as well as a drug for the regeneration of an animal tissue.[6]

The documentary Milford Graves Full Mantis directed by Graves' former student, Jake Meginsky, along with Neil Young was released in 2018.[7]

Alice in Chains vocalist, William DuVall directed a documentary about Graves titled Ancient to Future: The Wisdom of Milford Graves, which is in post-production.[8]


As leader

  • 1965: Percussion Ensemble (ESP)
  • 1977: Meditation Among Us (Kitty)
  • 1977: Babi (IPS)
  • 1978: Meditation Among Us (Kitty Records/DIW)
  • 1998: Grand Unification (Tzadik)
  • 2000: Stories' (Tzadik)

As sideman

with Montego Joe

  • Arriba! (Prestige)
  • Wild & Warm (Prestige)

With Giuseppi Logan

  • Giuseppi Logan Quartet (ESP)
  • More Giuseppi Logan (ESP)

With Paul Bley

With New York Art Quartet

  • New York Art Quartet (ESP)
  • Mohawk (Fontana)
  • 35th Reunion (DIW)
  • call it art (Triple Point Records)

With the Jazz Composer's Orchestra

  • Communication (Fontana)

With Miriam Makeba

  • Makeba Sings! (RCA)

With Lowell Davidson

  • The Lowell Davidson Trio (ESP)

With Don Pullen

  • At Yale University (PG)
  • Nommo (SRP)

With Albert Ayler

With Sonny Sharrock

With Andrew Cyrille

  • Dialogue of the Drums (IPS)

With Various Artists

  • New American Music Volume 1: New York Section / Composers of the 1970's (Folkways)

With Sun Ra

  • Untitled Recordings (Transparency)

With Kenny Clarke/Andrew Cyrille/Famoudou Don Moye

With David Murray

With John Zorn

With Anthony Braxton & William Parker


  1. "Milford Graves at All About Jazz". All About Jazz. AOL.Muaix. Archived from the original on 3 November 2011. Retrieved 9 August 2010.
  2. Jacobson, Mark (November 12, 2001). "The Jazz Scientist". New York Magazine.
  3. Litweiler, John (1984). The Freedom Principle:Jazz after 1958. Da Capo. p. 137. ISBN 0-306-80377-1.
  4. Corey Kilgannon, "Finding Healing Music in the Heart", New York Times, November 9, 2004 Retrieved November 20, 2004
  5. Dayal, Geeta (March 19, 2018). "Milford Graves: Full Mantis". 4 Columns.
  6. "Patents by Inventor Milford Graves". Justia Patents.
  7. Clarke, Cath (August 30, 2018). "Milford Graves Full Mantis review – cutting-edge drums and terrific storytelling". The Guardian.
  8. Christopher, Michael (August 13, 2013). "Interview: William DuVall of Alice In Chains on getting out of the box, moving forward, and respecting a legacy". Vanyaland.
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