Artists Space

Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency

October 8, 2021 - January 8, 2022

Artists Space, in collaboration with Mark Christman and Ars Nova Workshop, is pleased to present Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency, a multiform retrospective exhibition and event series dedicated to the life and work of interdisciplinary artist and percussionist Milford Graves.

A black-and-white image of a man sitting on his knees with two African drums placed in front of him. His head looks downward while his left-hand hovers above the drums. His right hand firmly holds the side of a shaker instrument.
Portrait of Milford Graves, New York, c. 1987. Photo: Lona Foote. Courtesy the Photo Estate of Lona Foote [A black-and-white image of a man sitting on his knees with two African drums placed in front of him. His head looks downward while his left-hand hovers above the drums. His right hand firmly holds the side of a shaker instrument.]

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.

Click on the blue box below to visit a special website documenting various threads of Milford Graves’ practice, which will unfold as a series of chapters released every two weeks beginning November 10th. Separated into five different categories—Heart Music, Acupuncture, Japan, Garden, and Yara—the pages function as a space to explore rare archival images, videos, newly commissioned texts, as well as a portal to view live events that will take place at 11 Cortlandt Alley and online.

December 5, 2021

A Memorial for Milford Graves

December 15, 2021

Shahzad Ismaily

January 15, 2022

Yuji Agemastu: Chasing Milford

Milford Graves (1941-2021, Jamaica, Queens) was a percussionist, acupuncturist, herbalist, martial artist, programmer, and professor. A pioneer of Free Jazz, Graves was a member of the New York Art Quartet, whose iconic first recording in 1964 featured LeRoi Jones (Amiri Baraka) reading his poem “Black Dada Nihilismus.” In 1967, he played at John Coltrane’s funeral. A consummate autodidact with a syncretic approach, Graves invented a martial art form called Yara based on the movements of the praying mantis, African ritual dance, and Lindy Hop in 1972. Shortly thereafter, Graves joined the Black Music Division at Bennington College, where he taught for 39 years. In 2000, he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship and began to study human heart vibrations to better understand music’s healing potential, and in 2015 he received the Doris Duke Foundation Impact Award. He is the subject of a critically acclaimed feature-length documentary, Milford Graves Full Mantis (2018), directed by his former student, Jake Meginsky, with Neil Young. Among his many notable recordings are In Concert At Yale University (with Don Pullen, 1966); Dialogue of the Drums (with Andrew Cyrille, 1974); Babi (1977); Meditation Among Us (1977); Real Deal (with David Murray, 1992); Grand Unification (1998); Beyond Quantum (with Anthony Braxton and William Parker, 2008); and Space/Time Redemption (with Bill Laswell, 2014).

For much help and guidance on this project, we thank Yuji Agematsu, Clifford Allen, Hilton Als, Dor Ben-Amotz, Bradford Bailey (The Hum), Doug Bendit, Olivier Berggruen, Dawoud Bey, Philip Bither, Karen Brookman, Jacqueline Caux, Cathleen Chaffee & Gabrielle Carlo (Albright Knox), Steve Clay, Shamus Clisset (Laumont), Geoff Cline, John Corbett, Andrew Cyrille, Bernard Drayton, Ntone Edjabe, Brent Hayes Edwards, Michael Ehlers, Marty Ehrlich, Jim Eigo, Anthony Elms (ICA), Douglas Ewart, The Photo Estate of Lona Foote, Iliya Fridman (Fridman Gallery), Chris Funkhouser, Peggy Gale, Miguel Abreu Gallery, Gladstone Gallery, Jesse Gelaznik, Jana Haimsohn, Laura Heffington, Alanna Heiss, Michael Heller, Shahzad Izmaily, Jenny Jaskey, Henry Kaiser, Dr. Kamau Kokayi, Satoshi Kondo & Allyson Spellacy (Fergus McCaffery), Laurie Kwasnik, Andrew Lampert, Alan Licht, Adam Lore, Owen Maercks, Howard Mandel, Mani Mazinani, Josiah McElheny, Sarah Michelson, Markus Mueller, Kyle McKeveny, Jake Meginsky, Thurston Moore, Jason Moran, Marilyn Nance, Aldon Nielsen, Aki Onda, William Parker, Jacob Perlin, Jon Pestoni, Sierra Pettengill, Jeff Preiss, Calvin Reid, Chris Reisman, Ed Rhodes, Eliza Ryan, Yuzo Sakuramoto, Bill Seery (Mercer Media), MM Serra (The Film-makers’ Cooperative), Thor Shannon & Marlene Zwirner (David Zwirner), James Sherry, Yoko Shioya & Emi Marica (Japan Society), Ming Smith, Tae Smith, Michael Snow, A.B. Spellman, Charlie Steiner, Juma Sultan, Tom Surgal, Min Tanaka & Rin Ishihara, Bjorn Thorstensson, Jeremy Toussaint-Baptiste, Toshi Tsuchitori, Greg Wooten, Marvin X, Ben Young, Vida, and Martin Zimmermann

Lead Support for Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency is provided by the Robert D. Bielecki Foundation. Core Support is provided by Corbett vs. Dempsey, Martin & Rebecca Eisenberg, and Joe & Nancy Walker.

Program support for Artists Space is provided by The Friends of Artists Space, Lambent Foundation Fund of Tides Foundation, The Cowles Charitable Trust, The Cy Twombly Foundation, The David Teiger Foundation, The Helen Frankenthaler Foundation, The Horace W. Goldsmith Foundation, The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, The New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and the New York State Legislature, Imperfect Family Foundation, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, The Stavros Niarchos Foundation, The Willem de Kooning Foundation, The Danielson Foundation, The Fox Aarons Foundation, Herman Goldman Foundation, The Destina Foundation, The Luce Foundation, May and Samuel Rudin Family Foundation, The Milton and Sally Avery Arts Foundation, VIA Art Fund, Arison Arts Foundation, The Chicago Community Fund, The David Rockefeller Fund, The Jacques and Natasha Gelman Foundation, The Jill and Peter Kraus Foundation, The Richard Pousette-Dart Foundation.