Artforum on Milford Graves

Source: Artforum International.

AS A CHILD IN JAMAICA, Queens, Milford Graves played on tin cans in the woods, “sending signals, trying to get everybody’s attention.” This spirit of adventure, showmanship, and defiance of convention never left him. Beginning on conga drums, he learned about Afro-Cuban music through a distant cousin, viewing it as the missing link between bebop and the African diaspora, and studied with tabla player Wasantha Singh. Forming a Latin group with pianist Chick Corea, who predeceased him by a matter of days, he gravitated toward jazz for its greater harmonic openness, switching from conga and timbales to drumkit but incorporating the percussion-heavy approach of his Cuban groups. In 1964, he joined the New York Art Quartet, co-led by Afro-Danish saxophonist John Tchicai and trombonist Roswell Rudd. His highly active style—what Rudd called an “anti-gravity vortex”—virtually eradicated divisions between “front-line” and “rhythm section.”