Featured Art Notes, Institutional News

Bennington College’s Usdan Gallery Presents Nationally Touring Exhibit About Former Faculty Milford Graves

Milford Graves Collage Excerpt

Music performances and documentary screening create a vibrant program of Milford Graves events.

Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal, a nationally traveling exhibition, gathers the multifaceted work of Milford Graves (1941-2021) to explore the practices and predilections of an extraordinary jazz innovator, tireless polymath, and legendary Bennington College professor.

Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal Exhibition at Usdan Gallery

The exhibition at Usdan Gallery at Bennington College opens Tuesday, February 27 with a celebratory reception from 6:00-8:00 pm featuring a pop-up performance by Bennington College music faculty Senem Pirler and Michael Wimberly, music faculty emeritus Bruce Williamson, and music instructor Michael Bisio. The exhibition is on view through April 27; Usdan Gallery is open to the public Tuesday-Saturday, 1:00-5:00 pm and by appointment. For more information, visit the Usdan Gallery website.

Milford Graves playing the drums
Milford Graves

Milford was truly extraordinary. He made an indelible mark on this institution as well as on the worlds of jazz, improvisation, medicine, and wellness. He exemplified the far reaches of intellect and creativity and everything those explorations can yield in terms of personal joy and useful discovery. Anne Thompson, Usdan Gallery Director and Curator

This multiform exhibition brings to life the range of Graves’s activities in sections loosely categorized around science, music, and healing. Together, they demonstrate how these pursuits mutually informed one another, manifested in exhibition objects including hand-painted album covers, idiosyncratic drum sets, multimedia sculptures, photographs, costumes, archival recordings, ephemera, and documentation of his house and garden.

After incarnations in Philadelphia, New York, and Los Angeles, A Mind-Body Deal has particular historic resonance in the Bennington College context, as it foregrounds Graves’s significance as a teacher and mentor. An event series centering music, movement, healing, and film will further explore and celebrate his legacy. 

Events Celebrating Milford Graves

Additional events that celebrate Graves and his influence are open to the public and include:

  • Master Class with Jason Moran - 1:30 pm Friday, March 1, 2024, at the College’s Deane Carriage Barn. 
    • Jazz pianist Jason Moran will give a masterclass in improvisation that combines lecture and demonstration while working with an ensemble of Bennington music students. 
  • Jason Moran Solo: After Milford - 8:00 pm Friday, March 1, 2024, at the College’s Deane Carriage Barn
    • Pianist, composer, and artist Jason Moran presents a solo piano dedication to the life and work of Milford Graves, with whom Moran played. Moran is the Artistic Director for Jazz at The Kennedy Center. He has released eighteen solo recordings with Blue Note Records and Yes Records. His duet recording with percussionist/scientist Milford Graves was released in 2021. He curated the permanent exhibition Here to Stay for the newly opened Louis Armstrong Center in Queens, New York, and has co-curated the exhibition I’ve Seen the Wall: Louis Armstrong on Tour in the GDR 1965 at Das Minsk Kunsthaus in Potsdam, Germany. In 2022, Moran was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and was recently awarded the 2023 German Jazz Prize for Pianist of the Year. His latest recording, From the Dancehall to the Battlefield, is devoted to the music of World War I jazz pioneer and organizer James Reese Europe. 
  • Deane Carriage Barn Music Series: William Parker and Cooper-Moore 8:00 pm Wednesday, March 13, 2024, at the College’s Deane Carriage Barn
    • William Parker is a bassist, improviser, composer, writer, and educator from New York City. He has recorded more than 150 albums, published six books, and taught and mentored hundreds of young musicians and artists.  He has been called “one of the most inventive bassists/leaders since [Charles] Mingus,” and “the creative heir to Jimmy Garrison and Paul Chambers...directly influenced by sixties avant-gardists like Sirone, Henry Grimes and Alan Silva.” The Village Voice called him, “the most consistently brilliant free jazz bassist of all time” and Time Out New York named him one of the “50 Greatest New York Musicians of All Time.” 
    • Cooper-Moore is a composer-improviser, instrumentalist, designer and builder of musical instruments, and music educator living and working in New York City. His instruments have been exhibited at the Thread Waxing Gallery, NYC, and The Goddard Riverside Community Center, NYC.
  • Screening of Milford Graves: Full Mantis and discussion with the director - 7:00 pm Monday, March 18, 2024, at Tishman Auditorium
    • This award-winning documentary directed by Jake Maginsky ’09 is the first feature-length portrait of renowned percussionist Milford Graves, exploring his kaleidoscopic creativity and relentless curiosity. Audience members will have an opportunity to discuss the film with the director following the screening.  

It is such a pleasure to share the work and vision of my friend and mentor Milford and to connect this community to work inspired by him. I hope that these events will help people understand how lucky we all are to have had Milford with us as a member of our faculty and that the curriculum and explorations in improvisation planned for the campus community will inspire all of us to live with Milford's intellectual and creative vigor. Michael Wimberly, faculty member in Music

About Graves

A revelatory force in music starting in the mid-1960s, Graves liberated the role of the drummer—moving drums from the background to contribute equally with other instruments—and gave rise to the Free Jazz movement. Yet his life’s work encompassed medicine, botany, activism, and martial arts, elements that intertwined to inform his music and expansive consideration of healing and the mind-body relationship. 

An autodidact, lifelong experimenter, and consummate improviser, Graves saw rhythm in all the layers of existence, from subatomic particles to heartbeats to the movement of planets. He is credited as one of the discoverers of the “variable heart rate,” a breakthrough that fed his drumming and led to advancements in cardiology. His accolades range from a Doris Duke Impact Award to a Guggenheim Fellowship to a patent for a device that prepares non-embryonic stem cells. 

Fascinated by martial arts, he created his own form, called “Yara,” by studying the movements of the praying mantis. His house in Jamaica, Queens—owned by his grandparents, and where his family still lives—formed the center of his work and the expression of his ideas. And while he taught music and improvisation to Bennington students for 39 years, he also taught gardening, acupuncture, and other wellness practices to his Queens neighbors. 

A Mind-Body Deal is curated by Mark Christman, executive artistic director of Ars Nova Workshop in Philadelphia with curatorial research from Jake Meginsky ’09 and organization for Bennington by Thompson. The exhibition debuted in Fall 2020 at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. A version of the exhibition, expanded with the inclusion of Danielle Jackson as curator, appeared under the title Milford Graves: Fundamental Frequency, at Artists Space in New York before traveling to the Institute of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.

About Usdan Gallery 

The gallery presents exhibitions of contemporary artists and ideas, engaging and advancing the College’s history of innovation within the arts and beyond. The 4,000-square-foot space is located on the main level of the Helen Frankenthaler ’49 Visual Arts Center in VAPA. Anne Thompson is the Director and Curator. For more information, visit the Usdan Gallery website.

About Bennington College

Located in picturesque Southwestern Vermont, Bennington College holds a distinguished place among American colleges and universities. It was the first to include the visual and performing arts in a liberal arts education. It is the only college to require that its students spend a term—every year—at work in the world. 

Rooted in an abiding faith in the talent, imagination, and responsibility of the individual, Bennington invites students to pursue and shape their own intellectual inquiries, and in doing so to discover the profound interconnection of things. Learn more at bennington.edu.