I’m certain that many of you have either befriended, become acquainted with or heard the name Savannah Jeffreys spoken around the halls of Stuy. To some of you she is just another fellow student in the mass of students that is Stuyvesant High School. Savannah is quite an accomplished musician. She’s played and recorded her own music for years and I would consider her to be an integral musician within the Stuy community.
Some of us who know Savannah also know that music is a mainstay in her bloodline. Savannah bares a striking resemblance to her father Garland. When standing next to one another, the familial relation becomes quite obvious. Having been a close friend and fan of Savannah’s since we met, I leapt at the opportunity to meet and speak with her father. As I came to learn, the beauty of their relationship as father and daughter and as musicians adheres to the principle that music transcends sound by connecting people from different generations and backgrounds through common emotions and values.
Savannah’s father Garland was raised in Sheepshead Bay Brooklyn. Born in 1943, Garland grew up witnessing one of the fastest changing periods in musical history. During Garland’s birth year, the Billboard charts were topped by the likes of jazz-pop standard artists such as Bing Crosby and Harry James and in 1961 when Garland was 18 Elvis Presley topped the charts. Perhaps growing up with this musical revolution was what granted Garland his eclectic taste and style.
As a young boy he recalled being brought up listening to jazz artists such as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, and he expressed a special love for Billie Holiday. Garland went so far as to describe jazz as “the soundtrack of our lives,” for himself, his family, his friends and his generation at large. As a young boy, inspired by artists that his parents and the times introduced him to, Garland became even more inspired by many of the street-corner performers from his neighborhood.
Garland’s love for music began when he was four years old. While growing up he would often sing for fun which he revealed would later be an activity that he and his daughter would do together. As he explained, he was pushed towards an academic career, achieving a degree in Art History, specializing in the art of the Italian Renaissance from Syracuse University Though he loved art, it didn’t call to him the way music did. Garland laughed as he told me, “My father wanted me to into political science. I don’t even think he knew what it was.” So as Garland prepared to move on to graduate school, he decided to put his heart and soul into his music and work towards making that his career, or as he put it, “I was headed to graduate school and the music really started calling me.”
His experiences with both jazz and blues to rock and roll growing up have had a strong impact on his style and influence as a musician. He was influenced by musicians ranging from Charlie Mingus and John Coltrane to Bob Dylan and The Beatles. Being 17 years old as the 1960s began, Garland claimed he was “like a sponge” all throughout possibly the most revolutionary time period in the history of western music and musical culture. In college, the friendship that Garland developed with Lou Reed, who was at the time just a peer of Garland’s, proved to be crucial as Reed helped put Garland on to the folk and rock music as it was coming up, which played a huge role in the development of the sound that became Garland Jeffreys’. Listening to Garland’s music, one can easily see the impact that jazz, rock and folk music had on Garland as a musician and a person. The reason he has been so successful is that he did not simply copy and pay homage to these genres, he used them to create his own sound, his own vibe.
As Garland’s dream of being a musician became a reality, he opened himself up to all styles. Bob Marley even said that Garland Jeffreys is the only American musician that truly understands Reggae music. Even though music is an art, it is also a business and in order to have the ability to be creative, you need to be able to support yourself financially. In 1973, Garland released the single “Wild in the Streets” on Atlantic Records. This single, which he called, his first rock tune, really brought him fame and success that he hadn’t experienced in his career. The success that Garland had as a songwriter who was able to express himself and developed a following of fans who could identify with his music pushed him to keep playing and keep evolving.
The conversation that I had with Garland proved to be incredibly enlightening for me, not just because of my interest in his musical career, but because of my friendship with his daughter and my hopes of eventually becoming the kind of father who can connect with his children the way Garland connects with Savannah. During our conversation, Garland said to me, “Music is the thing.” This seems like a simple and general statement, but it made sense to me, supporting my hopes that Garland and I had managed to find common ground in our values. Music has the power to change the times and to connect absolutely anyone and this fundamental truth has motivated Garland his whole career and as father. The proof is in the connection that has been established between Garland and his music as well as between Garland and Savannah.
Garland has stated very clearly that when it comes to Savannah, “I don’t try to push her or force her to be a musician or follow me,” but it seems like the music runs through the Jeffreys’ veins. In retrospect, Garland Jeffreys has had a truly great career. He has played his music around the world for adoring fans and often times alongside brilliant musicians. It is clear that Garland will never lose his passion and desire to play music, but something tells me he wouldn’t mind just sitting back and watching his daughter achieve all he could have ever wanted and more. If there is one thing I learned about Garland through our interactions it’s that he is a great, passionate musician, but he is an even greater and more passionate father.