Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Efforts continue to rename the Williamsburg Bridge after jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins


[Image via Instagram]

Back in the spring, Lower East Side resident Jeff Caltabiano launched the Sonny Rollins Bridge Project with the purpose of renaming the Williamsburg Bridge to commemorate the jazz saxophonist. (This April feature in The New Yorker has the full story.)

And now, Brooklyn City Councilmember Stephen Levin (apparently with the support of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams) has introduced legislation to rename the Williamsburg Bridge the Sonny Rollins Bridge. (Rollins turned 87 last month.)

Here's more background from a news release yesterday via the EVG inbox...

“I first listened to Sonny Rollins at the age of 13. His music and his story has stayed with me to this day,” said Councilmember Stephen Levin, the bill’s sponsor.

“Looking around New York City you’ll see plenty of monuments to politicians,” he added. “You won’t see many monuments to cultural pioneers that embody the spirit of the city.”

In the summer of 1959, Rollins, who was 28 years old and at the height of his musical career, stopped performing and recording, and for two years would disappear to the pedestrian walkway of the Williamsburg Bridge, not far from his home on the Lower East Side.

It was on the bridge that Rollins, a native son of New York who lived in the city over seven decades, would practice for up to 16 hours a day.

“Playing against the sky really does improve your volume, and your wind capacity,” Rollins wrote in The New York Times in 2015. “I could have just stayed up there forever.”

During his sabbatical, Rollins also began practicing yoga, started exercising, quit smoking, and worked on improving himself. After two years on the bridge, Rollins became a better, more confident player and a better human being.

Rollins’ decision to retreat from the jazz scene — essentially taking a vow of artistic silence — was considered an extreme act. The only place one could hear Rollins play music was up on the bridge.

When Rollins finally returned to playing in public in November 1961, he was a changed man; a more confident and refined player, but also a radical humanist. He went on to create music for another half century, playing many of the world’s great concert halls and releasing many more albums.

Rollins’ work, part of his life-long pursuit of self improvement, exemplified by his time on the bridge, has provided inspiration for people of all walks of life around the world. He is considered one of the living legends of jazz, the greatest improviser in the history of recorded music, and an artist whose influence transcends music.

You can find more info at the Sonny Rollins Bridge website.

26 comments:

JQ LLC said...

Thus the inspiration for his classic "the bridge", that is quite fascinating. Although I think there should be an effort to make both pedestrian lanes bike and foot going both ways. Having a two way bike lane doesn't leave much room for passing safely.

Luis Lopez said...

With all said and done renaming the bridge after such a NY icon would only serve as a bedrock of a NY culture tradition.

Anonymous said...

Is this effort to actually rename the entire bridge after Rollins or part as in the pedestrian section? I would be in favor of the pedestrian section then.

Gojira said...

So not a fan of re-naming things that had perfectly fine names to begin with. The RFK Bridge? The Mario Cuomo Bridge? The Ed Koch Bridge? The Hugh L. Carey Tunnel? Nope, to me they will always be the Triborough, the Tappan Zee, the Queensboro, the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. I tip my hat to Sonny Rollins, but seriously, to rename the Williamsburg Bridge after him? The names given these places MEANT something geographically, and gave a clue as to where they originated - or went. These new ego-driven re-namings provide no such service. What's next, the iconic span into Brooklyn gets saddled with something like the Bill de Blasio Bridge?

DrGecko said...

If the bridge is renamed now, are people going to assume that he's dead?

Anonymous said...

The idea of renaming the bridge is lunacy. It shows a lack of disrespect for our history and the people of Williamsburg.

Giovanni said...

Why is it called the Williamsburg Bridge when most people are using it to get into downtown Manhattan? It should be called the Lower Eastside Bridge. The name makes no sense to me. Most of our other bridges and tunnels and highways were named for politicians which makes no sense. The George Washington Bridge, the Lincoln Tunnel, the FDR drive, the Ed Koch Bridge, the RFK bridge, not to mention LaGuardia and JFK airports. All politicians! it’s about time we named a bridge after someone who wasn’t a politician. It’s better to name it after an artist who represents something positive, creative and good.

Anonymous said...

I LOVE and worship Sonny Rollins but this idea is a nonstarter, guaranteed.
If just a simple statue of Charlie Parker in Tompkins is too much to ask (Rollins was a Parker disciple originally) then forget it.

Anonymous said...

I'm with Gojira. Renaming the bridges after 20th Century celebrities is so annoying. The RFK Bridge? Really? Some McCarthy hack from Boston? And naming something after a destructive crank like Ed Koch? Gross. In 50 years they're all gonna be known as the "who the fuck was that" bridge.

Donnie Moder said...

Everyone has their two cent opinion on this, mine is that Williamsburg is a good name, I can remember it, everyone knows it, or they can figure it is the bridge to Williamsburg. I am too old to remember a new name. The RFK Bridge still has me confused, it should have stayed as the Triborough. Why rename the bridge that has a sensible name? If it were the Robert E. Lee Bridge, then yes we should change it.

Anonymous said...

@Gojira: YES, 100% with you on this! We need to stop re-naming things - esp. things that are commonly known (as in "Triborough Bridge" "59th St. Bridge"). Also, what does it cost to re-make all the signs when they do this kind of name change - I know it's likely paltry relative to the entire city budget, but we need money for more pressing items, frankly.

No disrespect to Mr. Rollins, but maybe he can have a street or a park named for him?

Anonymous said...

Sick of the renaming of classic, descriptive shit. Triboro Bridge makes sense - nobody wants to call it the RFK bridge.
Keep the classic names that describe what something is!!!

Anonymous said...

@JQ LLC DUH, the pedestrian lanes are on the other side. Of course it makes sense.

The Island Formerly Known As... said...

Manhattan used to be called Manahatta, and New York used to be called New Amsterdam, but I didn’t hear anyone complaining when they changed those names. New York place names have always changed to reflect the times. It’s time to change that dusty old Williamsburg Bridge name too.

Anonymous said...

If the mayor brings P.S. 64 back to the community then I say we name it the Bill de Blasio Building.

DrGecko said...

@anon3:11 -

There are plenty of dubious claims of long-term NY residency, but yours is by far the most extravagant.

Anonymous said...

"While living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, he ventured to the pedestrian walkway of the Williamsburg Bridge to practice, in order to avoid disturbing a neighboring expectant mother." - Wikipedia
Awwww, ain't that sweet!

Anonymous said...

Leave the bridge name alone.

Honor The Jazz Man with something else.

Scuba Diva said...

I love the idea of renaming the bridge while Sonny is still alive.

Giovanni quoth:

Why is it called the Williamsburg Bridge when most people are using it to get into downtown Manhattan? It should be called the Lower Eastside Bridge.

People often call it the Delancey Street bridge for that reason.

I just shake my head when I pass the Ed Koch 59th Street Feelin' Groovy bridge. (Why didn't they rename it the Simon and Garfunkel bridge?)

Giovanni said...

Ok, so since we all agree that renaming everything in New York is the best idea ever (sarcasm alert) then here are a few names to consider for our own renaming ceremony:

Tompkins Square Park will be renamed “Candyland Fields,” in honor of all the new sugar-laden dessert places, or “Crustyland Paradise,” in honor of the “travellers” who have adopted it as their own Needle Park version of Nirvana.

Houston Street will be known as“The Horridor” to reflect the horrible endless wall of unbbearably ugly architecture, also known as Shoul’s Shitshow.

The Bowery will be called “The Street Where CBGB’s Used To Be.” Or TSWCBGBSUTB for short.

St. Marks Place will be called “The Rent Is Too Damn High Place” unless of course you are selling Asian street food or bongs, sunglasses, tattoos and vaporizers to NYU freshmen.

Avenue A will be called Adventure Avenue, Avenue B will be BroDeo Drive or Bottomless Brunch Way (which also applies to parts of 1st and 2nd Avenues), Avenue C will be The Cocktail Strip, and Avenue D will be Dead Man Drive, because thats what happens to you if you stay over there too long.

And the Staute of Liberty will be called “The Statue of Libertequila” in honor of our Mexican friends and all those Big Gulp sized margaritas being served on BroDeo Drive..

And I agree with Scuba Diva, they should have named the 59th St bridge after Simon & Garfunkel, or at least called it “The Bridge Over Troubled Water.”

JQ LLC said...

2:58

Duh, I was suggesting splitting the lanes on both sides so both kinds of traffic would go in the right direction. The Queensboro bridge should do this too.

Ride on the bike side one night. It's too friggin' tight. And people still walk and jog on it regardless.

And this renaming is stupid, Sonny's not even deceased.

Anonymous said...

When will Sun Ra's New York residency in the East Village be recognized? When??? He is probably more "East Village" than half the musicians mentioned here.

john said...

Maybe they could rename the bridge after Yankee great Bernie Williams ...

Or what about naming it after former East Village resident Henry Rollins ...

The closing scene of The Naked City was filmed on the Williamsburg Bridge in 1948. The pedestrian section looked totally different (and much nicer) back then. Spoiler Alert - this is the end of the movie:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cUO-tnJWhas

JQ LLC said...

This is only going to encourage a group of idiots to rename Manhattan Bridge after Taylor Swift.

Scuba Diva said...

Said JQ LLC:

This is only going to encourage a group of idiots to rename Manhattan Bridge after Taylor Swift.

Or maybe they'll co-name Hudson Street for her, since she owns so much real estate in Tri-bee-ca. (This would be far more appropriate, Co-naming Committee. Just sayin'.)

Anonymous said...

'Love Sonny Rollins, but c'mon. So what if he played his sax in the pedestrian walkway? Bob Dylan played guitar in Washington Square Park when he came to NYC - should we rename that park Bob Dylan Park? Besides that like Dylan, Rollins is not a lifelong resident of the neighborhood. What roots did he put down there? None. Dude left. If you're gonna rename a bridge rename it after someone who accomplished something of societal benefit for either side of the bridge.

The attempt to rename the corner Beastie Boys shot the cover for Paul's Boutique on "Beastie Boys Square" failed, and they made more of an impact on music and culture than Sonny Rollins ever did or will, so no to Sonny Rollins Bridge. Besides that naming it after him doesn't indicate where the bridge is or where it leads to or from.