An innovative and revolutionary force in radical music making since the mid-1960s, Graves transformed the role of drumming in jazz, introducing a new way of dealing with unmetered time and proclaiming that the drummer was not simply a beat-keeper but rather a dynamic and influential improviser. Instrumental in the Free Jazz movement, Graves is known as a key member of the notable ensemble New York Art Quartet, and worked alongside the likes of Amiri Baraka and Albert Ayler. He is also known for his famed collaboration with pianist Don Pullen and his work with the Japanese avant-garde musicians Toshi Tsuchitori and Kaoru Abe, further underscoring the breadth of his collaborative experiments and influence on music, which extended across the United States to Europe and Japan, among other locations.
A true polymath, Graves transformed his family home in Jamaica, Queens into a laboratory for his varied interests. In his basement, Graves trained and practiced as a cardiac technician to understand the connection between drum rhythms and the heartbeat and its healing properties; he invented a martial art form called Yara drawing upon the movements of the praying mantis and practiced the art form with musicians, students, and community members in his dojo; he was also a skilled botanist and herbalist with a community garden; and for decades, a dedicated and highly influential professor at Bennington College. Exploring cosmic relationships between rhythms and the universe—through movement, music, spiritualism, and the study of human anatomy—Graves embraced an expansive and holistic approach to sound that reads like an intellectual guide for how to push the boundaries of art and performance.
This comprehensive retrospective extends and expands the important work of last year’s Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal at ICA Philadelphia. Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency includes extensive film and photographic documentation of Graves’ live performances, rare ephemera tracing both his solo appearances and dynamic collaborations, a collection of Graves’ hand-painted album covers and a comprehensive display of his musical output, his highly decorated drum set and percussion instruments, costumes and elements from his home including documentation and material related to Yara and traces of his scientific studies, multimedia sculptures, and both archival recordings and new live performances by his collaborators and acolytes presented at Artists Space and on the exhibition’s website. In its organization, Fundamental Frequency will critically trace the holistically interrelated aspects of the artist’s work and his relationships and significant network of collaborators: from Albert Ayler to Min Tanaka to Andrew Cyrille to Giuseppi Logan among others, foregrounding his radical approach to experimental music.