Milford Graves Biography

20 August 1941, New York City, New York, USA. Born into a musical environment (his uncle and grandfather encouraged and coached his interest in music) Graves was playing drums at the age of three, though he had no formal teaching until he was 17. He took up congas when he was eight years old and led his own percussion ensemble and, later, workshops, while at school. He subsequently studied with George Stone in Boston and learned tabla techniques from Washantha Singh. Between 1959 and 1962 he played with dance and Latin bands around New York. He heard and was impressed by Elvin Jones with John Coltrane’s group in 1961 and in 1963 decided to concentrate on his own ideas rather than stay with commercial gigs. His first recordings were all on the ESP label and included appearances with the New York Art Quartet (with John Tchicai, Archie Shepp and Lewis Warrell), pianists Lowell Davidson and Paul Bley (Barrage), saxophonist Giuseppi Logan and his own Percussion Duo with Sunny Morgan. In 1965 he and Don Pullen set up their own SRP label, later releasing three duo albums and in 1969 Graves began a long association with Andrew Cyrille, with whom he recorded Dialogue Of The Drums in 1974.

Back in 1965 Graves began researching into the medical and psychological uses of music. He was also involved in the Storefront Museum, a community arts project in his home area of Jamaica, in the borough of Queens, New York City. An important figure in the 60s free jazz movement, he made an impression on a wider audience with two appearances at the 1973 Newport in New York Jazz Festival, but within two years he was forced to earn his living from teaching rather than performing. He has worked or recorded with Albert Ayler, Sonny Sharrock (Black Woman), Miriam Makeba, the Jazz Composer’s Orchestra Association, and in a percussion trio with Cyrille and Rashied Ali and in a percussion quartet, Pieces Of Time, with Cyrille, Don Moye and Kenny Clarke (later Philly Joe Jones). Many of the musicians he worked with in the early and mid-60s have credited him with being the first drummer to provide the combination of looseness and rhythmic propulsion that the new music needed.

Source: The Encyclopedia of Popular Music by Colin Larkin. Licensed from Muze.