In 2016 I invited Milford Graves to perform at the Park Avenue Armory in New York City. In preparation for his solo performance we spoke over the phone, and then in person as he visited the performance space, Veterans Room. He talked about transferring and transmitting energy through language, body and sound. I wanted to experience him pull the ear of the audience into his drums, the open vessels and gaping caverns. While he created a frame for his performance, he and Jake Meginsky created a new video. This video opened his performance and dove into his practice of amplifying the movements of the heart muscle and how those movements can render melodies. It was extraordinary, and his performance brought every aspect of his practice to peak.
At the end of his performance, he said "Thank You Jason....you know what's next.... we gotta play TOGETHER".
The festival producer Ashley Capps (Big Ears Festival) was in attendance that fateful evening, and two years later he invited Milford and I to his festival. Our duo had a date. I began visiting Milford at his home in Jamaica, Queens. On my first visit, I brought one of my sons and we sat in Milford's basement for hours. The basement is a laboratory. Thousands of wires, hundreds of vitrines, piles of books, stacks of drums, an enormous subwoofer, multiple video monitors. Everything that enters the basement is prone to be examined. Milford researches it all, from the voice to the pulp, and then he finds a way for those studies to exist in his music. He hooked my heart up to his computer and rendered a melody of my heartbeat. He added it to his archive of heart melodies. I'd return a few months later, we'd talk about sculpture, demand, and process. This was all in preparation for stepping onstage with him.
Milford reminded me of my teacher, the pianist Jaki Byard. Their stance and voice, their round sound and momentum, all of the history at play at once, never segmented into style, all living in the garden together. Milford spoke of gardens and how he planted species close to one another that might not otherwise meet, charging a new relationship.
This is how he approaches music.