Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency
October 8, 2021–January 15, 2022
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.
  • Exhibition

Artists Space
11 Cortlandt Alley
New York, NY
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Program Info

Free Admission
All Ages

Online Exhibition

Visit a newly commissioned website offering a space to explore Milford Graves’ practice, with rare archival images, videos, newly commissioned texts.

Exhibition Website


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.

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.

Exhibition Website

Visit a special website documenting various threads of Milford Graves’ practice, unfolding as a series of chapters released every two weeks during the exhibition. Separated into five different thematic categories — Heart Music, Acupuncture, Japan, Garden, and Yara — these website pages function as a space to explore rare archival images, videos, newly commissioned texts, as well as a portal to view live events taking place at Artists Space and online.

Exhibition Website


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.