Pioneering free jazz drummer Milford Graves dies

The cause of death was congestive heart failure.

Legendary free jazz drummer Milford Graves has died at the age of 79.

Graves’ death of congestive heart failure on February 12 was first confirmed by NPR, per journalist Lars Gotrich. The musician had contracted amyloid cardiomyopathy, or stiff heart syndrome, in 2018, as the New York Times reported last December. Following his diagnosis, Graves was told he would only have six months to live and faced death several times when fluid filled his lungs.

Throughout his music career, the avant garde drummer revolutionized the role of percussionists by asserting that drummers, too, could take the spotlight and be more than just a timekeeper. Graves collaborated with a lengthy list of artists, such as David Murray on their 1991 duo album Real Deal, Paul Bley, Albert Ayler, the New York Art Quartet, Sun Ra and the pianist Chick Corea, who also passed away recently. The polymathic Graves also made a name for himself as a passionate gardener, martial artist and scientist.


Graves’ reach stretched far past jazz into all corners of modern music. Seattle rock band Alice in Chains’ drummer William DuVall paid his respects to the late musician on Instagram, revealing that he has been working on a film about Graves for the past ten years.

“There have been numerous location shoots in New York, Boston, Los Angeles, Italy, Chile, Brazil,” DuVall said. “I’ve interviewed rock stars who’ve been influenced by him, jazz legends who were his colleagues and contemporaries, cutting edge scientists who’ve worked with and admired him, students who had their lives changed by his teachings. And, of course, there are hours and hours of one-on-one interviews between Milford and myself.”

RIP, Milford Graves. Listen to Real Deal:


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