Councilman Introduces Bill to Rename the Williamsburg Bridge After Sonny Rollins

Posted on: October 18th, 2017 at 5:00 am by

For one Lower East Sider, the quest to rename the Williamsburg Bridge after Jazz saxophonist Sonny Rollins just took a major step forward. City Council is now reviewing a bill that would make this happen.

In response to this community led effort, Brooklyn Councilman Stephen Levin introduced the bill, which is also supported by Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams. The legislation, still in its infancy, calls for the rechristening of the bridge to the Sonny Rollins Bridge.

Why, you ask?

Norfolk Street resident Jeff Caltabiano began spearheading the effort last spring, shining a light on the connection between the legendary musician and this East River span. Sonny Rollins once lived at 400 Grand Street, now buried beneath a fifteen-story tower for the Essex Crossing development (i.e. Site 5). While taking a two-year hiatus from recording and performing in 1959, 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.”

Caltabiano wants to make this musical footnote known. “For all of his brilliance, resilience, longevity, and humanity, we must honor Sonny Rollins, the Saxophone Colossus,” he said of the grassroots campaign to rename the bridge. “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.”

“I first listened to Sonny Rollins at the age of 13. His music and his story has stayed with me to this day,” said Councilman 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.”

Below is a short documentary piece about Rollins’ two-year sabbatical on the bridge, produced by the Rollins Bridge team.

What do you think of the effort?

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