How did Milford Graves die? Fans mourn free-Jazz drummer's tragic death at 79: ‘He could have lived to be 500’

Milford Graves was dubbed ‘basically a 20th-century shaman’ by saxophonist John Zorn

                            How did Milford Graves die? Fans mourn free-Jazz drummer's tragic death at 79: ‘He could have lived to be 500’
Milford Graves has died from congestive heart failure (

The remarkable free-Jazz drummer Milford Graves reportedly died at the age of 79. The news first surfaced on February 12, 2021 when NPR journalist Lars Gotrich tweeted, “NPR just got confirmation that Milford Graves — drummer, professor, researcher, gardener — died today from congestive heart failure.” 

The message continued, “His music and way of being was an elevation, rhythmically moving with the universe.” According to the report, Graves had been battling amyloid cardiomyopathy — also known as stiff heart syndrome — since 2018, when he was diagnosed and given six months to live.

In no time, several fans mourned his death calling him a kind and incredible musician. Fondly remembered for his early avant-garde contributions in the 1960s with Paul Bley, Albert Ayler, and the New York Art Quartet, Graves was dubbed “basically a 20th-century shaman” by saxophonist John Zorn.



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Who was Milford Graves?

Born on August 20, 1941, Milford Graves grew up in Jamaica, Queens and was drawn towards drumming at the age of three. At 8, he was introduced to the congas and started hand drumming soon after studying timbales.

In the early 1960s, he was popular for leading dance bands and playing in Latin/Afro Cuban ensembles in New York on bills alongside Cal Tjader and Herbie Mann. The artiste formed a group known as the Milford Graves Latino Quintet — which included saxophonist Pete Yellin, pianist Chick Corea [who also died this week], bassist Lisle Atkinson, and conga player Bill Fitch.





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In an interview with The Wire magazine, he once said, “I wanna get that so-called grand sound, the total sound of all the voices. I listen to all that and I say, what is the fundamental sound that’s coming from underneath all of that? I don’t want the harmonics, I want the fundamental. I come out on that stage man, that first sound I hear, I want to make sure that it contains the basic fundamental frequency that’s going on.”

Before his death, Graves was a noted academic and taught at Bennington College’s Black Music Division for 39 years. He was a Professor Emeritus at the institution.

Milford Graves (Wikimedia Commons)

‘He allowed me to sit in on a class’

Fans mourned the huge loss on social media and spilled the micro-blogging site with tributes. 

“Very kind human. Incredible musician. He taught my brother at Bennington. He allowed me to sit in on a class. He was so into sharing his love of music and its connection to life and the universe,” one fan wrote and another said, “The losses from a generation of monumental artists continue to mount. So sad. RIP Milford Graves.” A third chimed in, “Rest in Power Maestro Milford Graves.” 

Many others shared a number of videos and photos of him playing the drums. Catch all the tweets and tributes here:





‘Milford Graves could have lived to be 500’

“Milford Graves (1941-2021) — dancing drummer, technologist of magic, very sweet man, conjurer of avant-grade jazz, attentive herbalist, sculptor of strange shapes, martial artist, percussive polymath — joins the astral plane,” one tweet read and another said, “Milford Graves could have lived to be 500 and still be gone too soon. Wow. genius. Too good for this world.”

A third added, “For Milford Graves - truly a man who lived by his own rhythms both literally and figuratively. If you haven’t seen Full Mantis yet do yourself a favor and watch it this weekend. It will rearrange your head.” A fourth said, “I took this picture of Milford Graves from the stage at BAM on Dec 5, 2019, as he gazed upon transfixing archival footage of his younger self in action. A beautiful man, and a beautiful night that I will remember forever. RIP.”




Here are some more photos and videos: 





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