Campaign Seeks to Name Williamsburg Bridge For Sonny Rollins

Sonny Rollins on the Williamsburg Bridge in 1966.

Sonny Rollins on the Williamsburg Bridge in 1966.

A local resident has launched a campaign to name the Williamsburg Bridge for jazz great Sonny Rollins.

You might already know the story. For a two-year period starting in 1959, Rollins ventured up to the bridge every single day to play the saxophone. The “sabbatical,” as it has famously become known, led to some of Rollins’ most brilliant work, including his 1962 album, The Bridge. Rollins played a starring role in our 2015 magazine cover story, which bid a fond farewell to 400 Grand St., which is now part of the Essex Crossing development site. That’s where he lived in the late 50s and early 60s.

Some time ago, Jeff Caltabiano started The Sonny Rollins Bridge Project, which according to the fledgling organization’s social media channels, “seeks to rename NYC’s Williamsburg Bridge to commemorate Rollins’ musical sabbatical there from 1959-1961.” Caltabiano was interviewed for a piece that popped up yesterday on The New Yorker’s website.

He’s lived on the Lower East Side since 2004, having rented an apartment near the now-shuttered music club, Tonic. Writer Amanda Petrusich met Caltabiano for a stroll across the bridge recently, inquiring what inspired him to take on this project:

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… While Caltabiano and I walked across the bridge, toward Brooklyn, we discussed his plans for the renaming project. 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.

You can read the whole article here.  Starting next month, Caltabiano will be leading downtown jazz walks, which will include the Williamsburg Bridge. You can follow his campaign on Instagram and Twitter.