Milford Graves, holistic beat doctor

Milford Graves is a free jazz drummer and percussionist, music teacher, therapist, acupuncturist…

Intrigued by the powerful effects of music on body and mind, he started to explore the beats and harmonics of human hearts, to the point where he could detect pathological anomalies listening to the songs of people’s hearts, and even fix them with his computer programs and custom made beats.

He was, also, going back to the source code for music…

Find more about him in a series of short interviews on Tom Hall web show ImprovLive365.

There, from his studio in Queens Milford Graves talks about human rhythm and sounds, the healing potentials of sonic vibrations, cardio-pathology, metronomic “machine” time versus biological variability in time, percussionist and acupuncturist virtuosity, focus, innovation, creativity, yin yang theory… Deep !


Read article Finding Healing Music in the Heart, by Corey Kilgannon, NYT, 2004

Mr. Graves, 63, a jazz drummer who made his mark in the 1960’s with avant-garde musicians like Albert Ayler, Paul Bley and Sonny Sharrock, performs only occasionally now. He spends about half his week teaching music healing and jazz improvisation classes at Bennington College in Vermont, where he has been a professor for 31 years. He spends much of the rest of his week in his basement researching the relationship between music and the human heart.

After descending the psychedelic-painted stairway into his laboratory, visitors are faced with a collection of drums from around the world, surrounding a network of computers. Wooden African idols spiked with nails rub up against medical anatomical models. Amid a vast inventory of herbs, roots and plant extracts sits an old wooden recliner equipped with four electronic stethoscopes connected to computers displaying intricate electrocardiogram readouts.”


Read Interview with Milford Graves, on Perfect Sound Forever 

PSF: What have you found out with different ailments and responses in your work and research?

Some of the things are very standard, like the dynamics of loud and soft. Sudden explosive loud sounds would cause a very strong skin galvanic response- it would be very stresssful on the system.

At the college, we had people who had cardiac irregularities or arrhythmias. They were diagonised as non-organic arrhythmias- people couldn’t really get any help with using medication or trying to change their lifestyles. So I would co-ordinate some music that would be considering ‘free jazz,’ entirely spontaneous and improvised. Some of it was done live but some of it was pre-recorded. We would play these things and we found that with one particular person, his heart rhythm started to synchronize with what we had performed on the tape. Then we played live and we steadied the rhythm into a regular heart rhythm and his own heartbeat stopped being arrhythmic and then it co-ordinated with us. That was very interesting. Some people don’t believe this but I have all the documents about it- electrocardiograms and a tape with one track having our pre-recorded music and on the other track we actually had this person’s heart rhythm and you could see how it synch’s right in.