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Cross-Campus Picks: Milford Graves — A Mind-Body Deal

This post marks the launch of a new Penn Libraries blog series, Cross-Campus Picks. This series offers book, music, and film recommendations to accompany exhibits and events taking place across the University of Pennsylvania.  

At the end of September, the University of Pennsylvania’s Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) reopened its doors to the public for an exhibition on the work of Milford Graves, presented by Ars Nova Workshop.

Graves is perhaps best known as a progressive jazz drummer, though categorizing him as a percussionist would be akin to labeling Benjamin Franklin a postmaster. Graves is a painter, a dancer, a mosaicist, a shaman, an acupuncturist, an herbalist, a former Police Athletic League boxing champion, a long-time professor at Bennington College, and the inventor of a martial art form called yara. He’s also a Guggenheim Fellow and a researcher; Graves has studied cardiac rhythms to explore the healing potentialities of music.

Milford Graves: A Mind-Body Deal runs through January 2021 and showcases original paintings, sculptures, photographs, scientific studies, and costumes. The exhibit also features a performance space, Graves’ customized drum sets, and archival recordings from his decades-long musical career.

Sculptural arrangement of anatomical models and wires
Photo credit: Constance Mensh, Institute of Contemporary Art.

“Milford's early work was a ‘secret door’ for me into the world of free jazz,” says exhibition curator and Artistic Director of Ars Nova, Mark Christman. “And although Ars Nova Workshop has provided me with so many mystical and magical experiences, I've never felt more embraced by the so-called 'avant garde' as when I met Professor Graves.” 

The ICA’s reopening and Graves’ polymathy inspired the launch of Cross-Campus Picks, a new series of Penn Libraries’ reading, listening, and watch lists to complement cross-campus exhibits and events.

“For us in academia,” says Eric Krewson, a Specialist at the Albrecht Music Library, “Graves is fascinating precisely because the scope of his work defies our notions of disciplinary specialization.”

Eileen Kelly, Head of Collection Management, agrees. “One of the exciting things about Milford Graves is that his work and passions are so wide-ranging that they touch on many areas of the Libraries’ collection,” she says. “We went down a rabbit hole in putting together this list.”

Below is the premiere installment of Cross-Campus Picks — an audio playlist and selection of readings as eclectic and wide-ranging as Graves himself.

Milford Graves: A Mind-Body-Library Deal


A selection of recordings featuring Milford Graves 

Arriba! con Montego Joe

New American music [electronic resource] : New York section : Composers in the 1970s

Love cry

Albert Ayler [electronic resource] : the Impulse story

Holy Ghost


In which Milford Graves appears as an incarnation of Norman Mailer 

Matthew Barney : river of fundament 


A selection of texts with pieces on Milford Graves

Jazz consciousness [electronic resource] : music, race, and humanity

Spirits rejoice! : jazz and American religion

Vinyl freak : love letters to a dying medium 

Pick up the pieces : excursions in Seventies music

Microgroove : forays into other music 


A selection of work by Milford Graves’ collaborators and influences

 The twilight samurai

Irène Schweizer, Andrew Cyrille

Low life ; Last exit

Miriam Makeba : the empress of African song, her essential recordings


Now he sings - now he sobs

Don Pullen

12 (+6) in a row 

Paul Bley : the logic of chance 

Pediatric procedural sedation and analgesia

A Love Supreme

 Functional arrhythmias


A selection of work pertaining to Milford Graves’ life and pursuits 

 The Neighborhoods of Queens

Learn computer vision and image processing in LabVIEW

Heart rhythm 

Martial arts and well-being : connecting communities and promoting health

Acupuncture – Basic Research and Clinical Application

Yoruba metalanguage

American allegory : Lindy hop and the racial imagination

 The herb in history, mysteries and crafts