Milford Graves was into his own version of World Music long before there was the term. His individualistic approach to the rudiments of drumming and its rhythmic pulses were light years ahead of most musicians. Yet he found musical colleagues and an audience for his forays into the deep end of free jazz.
A native New Yorker, and exposed to Latin rhythms, he started out as a child on congas, then became a teenage timbales player in a Latin band from 1959 through the early ‘60’s, Graves switched to a trap set after seeing Elvin Jones with Coltrane. From 1964 he was an essential member of the New Thing movement in New York City, and backing up Amiri Baraka's Harlem poetry readings.
Graves became a devout student of percussion on an international level, and went on to study not only its African roots and development, but expanded his studies on the Indian tablas with acknowledged master Wasantha Singh.
He had quite an extensive resume in the 1960’s playing with Hugh Masakela and Miriam Makeba, Giuseppi Logan, was a member of the Jazz Composers’ Orchestra Association, and collaborated with avante-garde pianist Paul Bley.
Graves recorded with pianist Don Pullen in 1966,(Graves Pullen Duo) and worked recurrently with Albert Ayler in 1967 and 1968, performing at the 1967 Newport Festival. He went on to form a duo with drummer Andrew Cyrille, and they also did drumming seminars with Rashied Ali.
By the 1973 Graves moved into education and taught at Bennington College. He recorded “Meditation Among Us,” in 1977, representing his foray into Japanese infused free jazz. He continued to perform and tour into the ‘80’s where he participated in percussion ensembles with such luminary drummers as Kenny Clarke, Don Moye, Philly Joe Jones, and of course Andrew Cyrille.
By the turn of the new century, Graves was a member of the New York Arts Quartet, went on to record and perform with sax man David Murray, and started an association with alto player John Zorn doing sessions for Zorn’s Tzadik label as: “Grand Unification,” (1998) and “Stories,” (2000) which is an aural journey into a personalized percussion performance. Highly recommended! He collaborated with Zorn in 2004 for “50th Birthday Celebration, Live.”
Milford Graves a drumming visionary who is in tune with the universal pulse of life, and has provided a glimpse into our potential.
Source: James Nadal