Institutional News, Usdan

Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal Now Open at Bennington College’s Usdan Gallery

Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal

More than 100 people attended the opening of Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal at Bennington College’s Usdan Gallery on the evening of Tuesday, February 27, 2024. The 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. The exhibition is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, 1:00–5:00 pm and by appointment through April 27. For more information, visit the Usdan Gallery's website

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 explore and celebrate his legacy. 

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.  

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. 

Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal

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's 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