Remembering Milford Graves

August 20, 1941 – February 12, 2021

 

A tribute to the adventurous drummer

Drummer Milford Graves passed away on Feb. 12, 2021 at the age of 79.

He was born in Queens, New York on Aug. 20, 1941, began playing drums when he was three, and added the congas, timbales and other Latin percussion instruments by the time he was a teenager.

Graves’ early jobs included playing with Afro-Cuban jazz and Latin ensembles; the Milford Graves Latino Quintet included the young pianist Chick Corea in the early 1960s.

After hearing the John Coltrane Quartet in 1962, Graves switched directions, focused on playing drums, and began exploring avant-garde jazz including playing with Giuseppi Logan.

He moved to New York in 1964 and as a member of the New York Art Quartet was one of the first free-form jazz drummers, soon recordings with that group, Giuseppi Logan, Paul Bley, the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra, and Miriam Makeba.

Graves recorded a percussion album with drummer Sonny Morgan, had a duo with pianist Don Pullen, in 1967 was a member of Albert Ayler’s group, recorded with Sonny Sharrock, and with drummers Andrew Cyrille and Rashied Ali performed concerts called “Dialogue Of The Drums.”

After all of that activity, Graves had other jobs including becoming a medical technician, managing a lab as a veterinarian, and teaching at Bennington College during 1973-2012; musically his later associations included recording with David Murray, John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, and William Parker.

A documentary on his life called Ancient to Future: The Wisdom of Milford Graves was made in 2013 but has not yet been released.

Here is Milford Graves in 1973 performing in a very passionate group with saxophonists Joe Rigby and Hugh Glover, and trumpeter Art Williams.

-Scott Yanow

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