Milford Graves headlining first Brandeis Improv Festival

Festival runs from March 27 to 29 and features improvisers from all walks of life


Drummer Milford Graves will perform and give the keynote address at the Brandeis Improv Festival.

Improvisers from all walks of life will come together for concerts, workshops, discussions and even a dance party as part of the first Brandeis Improv Festival from March 27 to 29.

The festival will feature revolutionary jazz percussionist Milford Graves, who will give a rare solo performance on March 27 and deliver the keynote lecture for the festival on March 28.

Organized by the Department of Music and funded by the Brandeis Arts Council, the festival was conceived by Department of Music Lecturer Tom Hall. Hall conducted a yearlong video project called ImprovLive 365, which featured a new short video every day for one year showcasing improvisation in action. The series spawned the concept for the festival, which led to a proposal to the Brandeis Arts Council.

"What I really wanted was to bring together people who are really great improvisers, but also approach it in different ways," Hall said.

The festival will include music and comedy performances, a dance party, fine arts demonstrations -- where public artists and will create work as musicians play in the background -- new technology workshops, and discussions on the role of improvisation in building peace, unleashing creativity and more.

Graves, the keynote, performed with some of the premiere jazz artists of the 1960s, and is considered a trailblazer of free jazz drumming.

"He was a drummer who really broke it wide open as far as how a drum set is used in jazz," Hall said.

But his life has also taken many interesting turns outside of music. He's also a martial arts master, herbalist and acupuncturist. He's often called "the Professor" or "Professor Graves" because he was a music professor at Bennington College for 28 years.

"He has applied improvisation to all these areas throughout his life," Hall said. "He's really entertaining and fun to talk to."

Graves’ performance will close out the festival’s inaugural concert, which also features pianist Tim Ray, the Bob Nieske 4, and the April Hall Quintet. Other performers and presenters at the festival include:  art historian Peter Kalb, Eric Rosenbaum from the MIT Media Lab, DJs Mister Rourke and Axel Foley, Guttmann’s Klezmer All Stars, Club d’Elf, video art by Greg Kowalski, public artist Jane Goldman, improvisational action painter Chris Gill, on-campus improv comedy, dance and music groups, and more.

Brandeis's commitment to bring together disciplines makes it the perfect place for this festival, Hall said.

"It's part of the fabric of the university," he said. "Arts and creativity are a part of everyone's life and education."

The festival begins with open discussion on the relationship between improvisation and social transformation with Tom Hall and Cindy Cohen, director of the Program in Peacebuilding and the Arts at Brandeis. A full list of participants, a schedule for the festival and ticket information can be found the festival’s website.

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