Hot off the Press

My first book, World Gone Zoom: Notes from the American Epicenter, is scheduled for release on May 18. My publisher’s summary blurb reads:

Acclaimed essayist and musician, David Belmont takes us on a poetic journey through life under lockdown in New York City during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and the few months following, replete with political commentary, philosophical musings and musical references.

Makes me want to go out and buy this book! If you feel similarly, you can get that done here:


I am posting a long piece below. It’s a dedication to Milford Graves, one of my musical inspirations. Now all the musicians who inspired me when I was younger are no longer walking the earth. Except Bob Dylan, who was my first. 

Go know


Montage for Milford 2.14.21

I first heard of Milford in an interview with avant guitarist 
Sonny Sharrock. I think it was in DownBeat in 1969. 
Sonny was commenting on drummer Tony 

Williams, who had just left Miles Davis and joined forces with 
John McLaughlin and Larry Young to form the Tony 
Williams Lifetime. “Tony’s great. 

He’s breaking up the meter. But he can’t play free. There’s this drummer 
Milford Graves who I play with. He can play in ‘no time.’ 
With Tony, it’s all one-one-one-one-one.”

milford finally died this weekend
two days before valentine’s day
kinda fitting for a guy who did his own
grassroots heart science
with homegrown technology

he had a narrow goateed face
over a wiry muscular frame
that exuded a peaceful ferocity

i must have seen him play
two dozen times
more than any musician

i wish i could call him 
a musical influence
but what he was doing
was so far beyond my reach

his impact was more spiritual 

he called queens home 
his entire life
had a house and a yard
in south jamaica
where he did his martial arts exercises
and grew plants and trees

i first heard him play
at studio rivbea on bond street
the first of many times that 
junior, dave and me ventured there

it was the same drill each time

we’d place ourselves on the persian rug 
right in front of his bass drum
so the sound from the cacophonous 
saxophone players went right by
our ears as we sat transfixed
by milford’s rhythmic magic

which was as much 
movement as music

he played his snare-less tuned drums 
with elbows and sticks creating 
rolling waves of tsunami sound

some sundays 
after we’d played
our version of avant in
junior’s south ozone park attic 
we’d drive over to 
milford’s ersatz dojo
a quonset hut in jamaica
to hear a jam session

which was more like a
three ring circus 

maybe joseph jarman
playing a flute/xylophone
duet with rashid sinan
on a riser while
maybe hamiet bluiett
and oliver lake read
through charts 
in the corner and
maybe milford gave 
some young local musicians 
an african music lesson 

i caught that lec demo once 
at the loeb student center

milford chatting musicology 
over a talking drum
morphing the standard
three against two rhythm
into a jazz cymbal ride

from west africa 
to downtown new york
via south carolina
and congo square

the last time i saw milford
was andrew cyrille night
at the vision festival

we had seats 
in the front row
of the balcony 
overlooking the stage

i shuddered as i saw him 
walk up the steps 
with his distended belly
i turned to kim and said
is that milford?

he gave it 
his all in the
duet with andrew
closing with tears
to a standing ovation

bittersweet to watch
his arms and 
feet dancing
from above
knowing that 
he was on 
his way out

there’s a documentary 
about his life called 
full mantis

well worth

email to David Utevsky

Milford Graves Night was quite the experience. Huge crowd, by far the largest I’ve seen at a Vision Festival gig. I estimate around 1,000. Including a number of jazz players who were there to pay their respects. I’m bad with names and faces these days, but did recognize Bill Dixon and Roy Campbell. I had to talk my way into a standing room only situation.

The MCs, board members of Arts for Art, kept referring to Milford as Professor Graves, a tip of the hat to his teaching gig at Bennington. For his part, Graves was quite elated and chattier than I’ve ever seen him, telling stories about this or that rehearsal at someone’s place and so on. His reminiscence about the first time he met Amiri Baraka was touching. How Amiri was real smart and looked academic, quite imposing for a kid (Milford) who grew up in the projects in South Jamaica.

The first group was all Cuban or Puerto Rican players. A bit spotty, but some good moments with Milford jamming with congero Roman Diaz. It definitely warmed him up.

The next group was a trio with DD Jackson, a student of Don Pullen, on piano and Kidd Jordan on tenor. Fantastic ensemble listening, both rhythmically and harmonically as DD was white on rice to wherever Kidd went. And he went many places, including quotations from A Love Supreme and a Sonny Rollins tune whose name I can’t remember. Had not heard Jordan before. He’s quite a player. Very strong melodically with a big tone. Not much overblowing or way out stuff. A thing I’ve noticed about Graves’ playing when there are 3 or more musicians involved is that he always finds the middle of the sound and pushes the group from there. And DD/Kidd were giving him big room in the middle.

The highlight was the final set, a reunion of sorts for the New York Art Quartet, dubbed the New York HeArt Quintet for the occasion. It opened with Milford doing a simple tom tom pattern that sounded like a bass line, given how he tunes his drums. Amiri Baraka shuffled up to the stage, supported by a cane, and read a moving poem over the pattern, about black history dating back to the slave trade (“a bridge of bones on the bottom of the ocean”). Then Milford did a duet with Roswell Rudd. Rudd’s understated lines and glissandi framed Graves’ drum exploration wonderfully. Next up with Milford were Charles Gayle and William Parker, a trio that performed regularly in the 90s. Gayle is the living embodiment of Albert Ayler. He doesn’t have quite as big a sound, but he goes to similar places, has tremendous energy (he stayed in the ultra high overblown register for about 3 minutes at one point) and creative, angular chops. I’ve seen Parker many times (he seems to play with everybody on the NYC free scene) and he always finds the right territory to be in. They wailed for quite awhile.

Rudd joined them, doing mostly sound and texture stuff with the slide of his trombone and the mute. Then Gayle moved to the piano. He’s a great piano player. Has a distinct Cecil Taylor influence, with note clusters and playing with his elbows, etc. Was spot on wherever the melody/harmony was going. The playing quieted down and Baraka came back out for another poem, shuffling his feet and swaying his body along with the sound. 

This was probably the best I’ve ever heard Milford, who I saw over a dozen times in the 70s and see every year at the Vision Festival. The final set was probably a historic moment in jazz, for those of us who keep track of such things.