[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.