Milford Graves

Milford Graves, born August 20, 1941, died February 12, 2021. He was an American jazz drummer and percussionist. Graves is known for his avant-garde contributions to jazz in the 1960s, including with Paul Bley and Albert Ayler. He is also noted for being a pioneer of free jazz, removing percussion from its timekeeping function. John Zorn, a composer and saxophonist, described Graves as “basically an 20th-century witch.” Graves was born Jamaica, Queens. At age three, he began to play drums and was introduced at age eight to the congas. He was also a student of timbales and African handdrumming from an early age. He was a leader in dance bands, and played in Latin/Afro Cuban groups in New York by the 1960s. His band, the Milford Graves Latino Quintet included Pete Yellin (saxophone), Chick Corea (pianist), and Lisle Atkinson (conga player). Graves first heard Elvin Jones’ drumming in 1962 when he was part of the John Coltrane quartet. Graves purchased a standard drum set for him from pianist Hal Galper the following year and started using it regularly. Don Alias, Boston’s percussionist, invited Graves to Boston that summer. Graves then began playing with Giuseppi Logan, the saxophonist. Logan introduced Graves, in 1964, to Roswell Rudd, trombonist, and John Tchicai, saxophonist. Graves “wound-up playing with them for half a hour, surprising Rudd and Tchicai who immediately invited him to join The New York Art Quartet. Rudd said that Graves’s playing was “like an anti-gravity vortex in which you could either fly or float depending on your impulse. Tchicai said that Graves “just baffled Rudd and me in that we had never heard any of the younger musicians in New York have the same rhythmic cohesion in polyrhythms, or the same intensity and musicality. Tchicai stated that Don Moore (original New York Art Quartet bassist) “became so afraid of this wizard of an percussionist that it couldn’t be possible and refused to play with me.” Graves was also a participant in the “October Revolution in Jazz”, organized by Bill Dixon. He also appeared on several recordings, including Giuseppi Logan’s self-titled debut album. This album also featured Don Pullen, Eddie Gomez and Montego Joe’s Arriba. Con Montego Joe, which also featured Chick Corea (and Gomez), as well as the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra’s communication. Graves briefly performed with Albert Ayler’s trio that included Gary Peacock, Sunny Murray and drummer Sunny Murray as a second drummer. John Coltrane was inspired by this combination of musicians to add Rashied Ali as his second drummer in the following year. Graves continued his explorations in 1965 by studying tabla with Wasantha Sing and recording with Miriam Makeba for Makeba Sings! Percussion Ensemble was his percussion album, featuring drummer Sonny Morgan. Val Wilmer said that the album was “just about the most brilliantly designed and executed percussion albums to date.” Graves recorded that year on the second album Mohawk of the New York Art Quartet, as well as on Montego Joe’s second album Wild.

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