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Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency

October 8, 2021–January 8, 2022

Ars Nova Workshop, in collaboration with Artists Space (NYC), 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. The exhibition and related programs will be on view at Artists Space, downtown Manhattan’s enduring alternative arts space, and on the exhibition website, from October 8, 2021 to January 8, 2022.

Milford Graves

An innovative and revolutionary force in radical music making since the mid-1960s, Milford 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.

Fundamental Frequency

Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency features many items from across the artist’s wildly varied and creative works including; 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 website.

This comprehensive retrospective extends and expands the important work previously compiled by Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal, an exhibition presented fall 2020 at ICA Philadelphia. 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.


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).

Cover: Portrait of Milford Graves, New York, c. 1987. Photo by Lona Foote. Courtesy the Photo Estate of Lona Foote.
October 8, 2021–January 8, 2022


  • Exhibition

Program Info

Free Admission
All Ages

Opening Friday, October 8

Appointments can be scheduled through the Artists Space website.


A multiform retrospective exhibition and event series dedicated to the life and work of interdisciplinary artist and percussionist Milford Graves.


Artists Space, 11 Cortlandt Alley
New York, NY


Lead Support for Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency is provided by the Robert D. Bielecki Foundation.

Original support for Milford Graves: A Mind Body Deal at ICA Philadelphia was provided to Ars Nova Workshop by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Artists Space

Founded in 1972 in downtown Manhattan, Artists Space fosters the artistic and cultural life of New York City as a primary venue for artists’ work in all forms.

“An affinity with emerging ideas and artists is central to our institution, as is attentiveness to the social and intellectual concerns which actively inform artistic practice. We strive for exemplary conditions in which to produce, experience, and understand art, to be a locus of critical discourse and education, and to advocate for the capacity of artistic work to significantly define and reflect our understanding of ourselves.”


Artists Space is dedicated to creating an open and accessible environment. If you have any accessibility questions or concerns, please contact Artists Space at or 212-226-3970 prior to your visit.


In keeping with New York City health advisories and in the interest of the safety of staff and visitors, Artists Space requires staff and visitors wear a mask at all times, use the available hand sanitizer upon entry, and practice social distancing while in the space. Guests must show proof of vaccination to enter Artists Space via the NYC COVID Safe App, Excelsior Pass, CDC Vaccination Card (or photo), NYC Vaccination Record, or an official immunization record from outside NYC. More information about Artists Space COVID-19 safety protocols can be found on the Artists Space website.