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A Fireside Chat with Milford Graves

By Published: April 30, 2003

MG: Unfortunately, some people are afraid to talk about somebody when they are dead. I have no problem with that because I think it is important to educate people about mistakes that people made so they won't make those mistakes. I thought the positive things in him was that he was dedicated to what he did. I think that is one of the big positive things. He didn't talk so much. He hummed a lot. He was constantly humming. His playing, the way he played was quite different from him as a person. His playing was more aggressive in volume. He, as a person, was not like that. I think his spiritual side didn't allow him to be aggressive enough when it came to taking a certain kind of business stance. The reports that I've had, knowing a little bit about Albert, I think he kind of regretted some of the things that he allowed himself to get involved with, his last entries with Impulse! Records. When he was told what kind of band he should have and what kind of music he should do. He didn't survive a lot of his errors. It really affected him. I actually saw the official coroner's report. The rumors that he had been murdered and he had been shot in the head, well, as far as the New York City coroner's report, there was no indication of that.

FJ: He simply drowned.

MG: Yeah, that is what the report read.

FJ: Do you believe that report to be true?

MG: I think so.

FJ: Why have you not recorded more?

MG: I think I would record more if people would understand that I have a telephone and that I have a mailing address. If they understood that, then maybe we could talk a little bit. When you record, people have to realize that serious musicians make a great sacrifice and you are going to give up your art sometimes. You have to help support us a little bit. Some artists are fortunate, they get what they ask for.

FJ: What is a typical Milford Graves day?

MG: I spend my time at Bennington College doing research on sound and holistic healing and how the body functions and circulatory system is involved with our basic internal music structure. That is primarily what I do.

FJ: Is there a direct correlation between what a person listens to and his or her health?

MG: Oh, I think so and hopefully, I'll have a very good book or report on that very soon. I will tell you what is very interesting. I always tell people that being a musician is extremely important and if you are going to be a musician, you have to be responsible because people come to listen to you. You go to a restaurant to get some food and you depend on that chef or that cook to prepare some food that is not only going to taste good, but also be healthy to you. People come to see musicians with their ears. They are using their ears and asking you to put something in their ears. You have to know what you are putting in their ears. In traditional times, a musician was required not only to know the instrument, but they were also doctors, healers. You never separated those two because you are dealing with people. You are dealing with the mind. You are dealing with bodies. You are dealing with the soul. When you try and separate those things, it is no good. Other than the physical thing, you have to have some internal content. You have to have some mind stuff. The only way you are going to get mind stuff is to know about people. You have to know how people live. You have to know about culture, not only your own culture, but the whole multicultural concept because you are dealing with a multiplicity of people. Therefore, I tell them the importance of what a drummer is. Those guys over there, especially the Griots, they are the storytellers. So the more stories you know and the more you know about life, the more you can articulate on that instrument, especially if you know the relationship between the word and the drum. What I impart to them is to not only be some musician, who just blows through an instrument, pluck, or hit on a drum skin, you have to be a good person and what being a human is about. Tell your story on an instrument.

FJ: Sixty plus years on this earth, it's a good bet you have stories aplenty.

MG: I have a bunch of them.

FJ: Are kids these days missing out being as musically dogmatic as they are?

MG: I know. I had this discussion the other day at the college. Today, people come from all parts of the world and you can't impose just the way you have been taught, this so-called American way you have been taught, whether you want to call it Anglo or a white man's way of doing something. You have to understand that other people have something to contribute.

FJ: What is the most unique instrument you own?

MG: The human voice. You can't beat it. For me to do a drum solo, my voice has to be in there.

FJ: Who do I need to have a sit down with to get you to LA?

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