This Lower East Sider Wants to Rename the Williamsburg Bridge for Sonny Rollins

Posted on: April 7th, 2017 at 5:11 am by

williamsburg-bridge-path-train-2014_wm

For Jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins, the Williamsburg Bridge was once-upon-a-time sanctuary to master his instrument. Now, one Lower East Sider is pushing the city to commemorate (and celebrate) the artist with a renaming.

Sonny Rollins also lived at 400 Grand Street, now buried beneath a fifteen-story tower for the Essex Crossing development (i.e. Site 5). In his younger days, the horn player would seek refuge on the pedestrian path of the East River span, as “I had no place to practice…my neighbor on Grand Street was the drummer Frankie Dunlop, and his wife was pregnant,” he wrote in the New York Times two years ago. “Nobody was there, and it was beautiful. I went to the bridge to practice just about every day for two years. Playing against the sky really does improve your volume, and your wind capacity.”

The New Yorker penned a piece about the proposal, spearheaded by Norfolk Street resident Jeff Caltabiano.

Last summer, Caltabiano had an epiphany of sorts after seeing an Instagram post by the horn player Ken Vandermark: a photo of the bridge with the caption, “It’s still Sonny Rollins’ bridge to me…” Now Caltabiano is working to convince the city to rename the bridge after Rollins. He would be content, he said, with a commemorative plaque to start—anything to mark what he understands to be a sacred, important place—though he has fantasized about corralling a saxophone choir onto the bridge to pay true homage. He has fantasized about getting Rollins to return.

His proposal is still in its early stages. He wanted to get Rollins’s blessing before making any formal moves, he said—a couple of weeks ago, he mailed a letter to a P.O. box in Germantown, New York, which he was told Rollins (who is eighty-six, and lives near Woodstock) still empties from time to time.

“In deciding to go practice on the bridge for over two years, Sonny Rollins made a very clear choice to race the marathon instead of sprinting to an early burnout, like Charlie Parker or Lester Young,” Caltabiano quipped when reached for comment.  “He made a deliberate and thoughtful decision to step away from the jazz scene for a while, which has helped him (along with his second sabbatical) live as long as he has lived.  For all of his brilliance, resilience, longevity, and humanity, we must honor Sonny Rollins, the Saxophone Colossus.  This project dreams that one day Mr. Rollins will once more step onto his bridge, The Sonny Rollins Bridge, and feel the freedom of the open sky.”

Since Sonny Rollins still walks among the living, it seems this task could prove Herculean. Although, Caltabiano remains optimistic. “There is precedent for renaming of public spaces for living people, which seems to happen more often with sport figures for example,” he tells us.  At this point, we are just trying to get the story out there and get a lot of support behind the idea. The political push to make this happen can come after there’s a groundswell of support.”

In the meantime, Caltabiano is about to begin leading free, jazz-themed walking tours of the Lower East Side. Head here for more.

Recent Stories

Bandits Lift Piggy Bank Tip Jar from Sugar Sweet Sunshine

Bah Humbug. Two thieves stole a countertop tip jar from the beloved Sugar Sweet Sunshine Thursday night. The Rivington Street bakery announced the petty, small-time hit job on Facebook with a public shaming. The jar in question was a forty-five-year-old piggy, and staff had apparently just emptied. So there wasn’t much left for taking. “It […]

CB2 to Consider Support of 200-Year-Old Federal House on the Bowery

Preservation efforts to save 206 Bowery again kicked into high gear earlier this month. Fear is rampant among these building advocates that the Landmark Preservation Commission – charged with saving the city’s beloved architecture – will let the Federal-style row house drop from its calendar at the end of this year. Led by the Greenwich […]

Replacement ‘Gem’ Found for Vacated Cafe Henrie on Forsyth Street

Cafe Henrie failed last month after two years on Forsyth Street. It was the casual hangout founded by Le Baron principal Andre Saraiva (aka street artist Mr. A). Now a month later, a new replacement is already lined up to take over 116 Forsyth Street. The outcome of Henrie in mid-November wasn’t a complete shock, […]

When Delancey Street McDonald’s Reopens, it’ll be Supersized on 2 Floors

Three months into major gut renovations, you would have no idea that McDonald’s served here for some two decades. Gone is the red-and-yellow branding (except a few “remodeling” signs), stripped from the marquee and replaced with plywood boards. But McDonald’s will indeed return to life in the coming months. Super-sized, at that. Indeed, take a […]

Early ’00s LES Rock History ‘Meet Me in the Bathroom’ will be Adapted into Docu-series

You may have seen this… New York’s beloved gritty indie musc scene circa 2000s is getting a second life, through a four-hour docu-series. That’s right, the resurgence is a visual retelling based on Lizzy Goodman’s 600-page oral history called Meet Me in the Bathroom: Rebirth and Rock & Roll in NYC 2001-2011. The documentary will […]