Visionary who turned down a gig with Miles Davis and pivoted to cardiology (among other pursuits) is subject of Philly ICA show
By Thomas Hine
October 11, 2020
Milford Graves is one of those people who wants to understand Everything.
This virtuoso percussionist, self-taught authority on cardiology, professor, philosopher, healer, and martial arts innovator is the subject of “Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal,” an intermittently fascinating, though more often exasperating exhibition on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art through Jan. 24.
I have always had an affinity for crackpot visionaries — Buckminster Fuller, for example, or William Blake, to name two of the more respectable examples of the bunch. Those who take an idiosyncratic journey to make a new synthesis of practice and knowledge, those who reconcile deep contradictions and produce weird inventions, have always captured my imagination. And if I fail to understand what they are talking about, who expects genius to be easy?
Naturally, I was drawn to a show about Graves, who was born in 1941 and is still working, though ailing, at the house in Jamaica, Queens, that has been the center of his career nearly all his life. He probably would be better known today if he had accepted an offer from Miles Davis to play in his group, but he had many other things he wanted to explore.
Graves holds a patent for preparing non-embryonic stem cells. He was a professor in the Black Music Program at Bennington College in Vermont for 39 years. In 2020 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship to study human heart vibrations, and he is credited with discoveries on variable heart rate. He invented a martial art.
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