A Very New York-style Tale

A new name for the Williamsburg Bridge

By lucas compan

Connecting the Lower East Side of Manhattan with Brooklyn, The Williamsburg Bridge is one of New York City's many architectural gems. It stretches over the East River and carries the J, M and Z subway lines, a bike path and a walkway, in addition to its eight lanes of vehicle capacity. Opened in 1903, it was the longest suspension bridge in the world at the time. Currently the bridge transports about 140,000 motorists, 92,000 transit riders, 600 bikers and 500 pedestrians between the two boroughs – according to nycGO. The bridge is toll free.

The Williamsburg Bridge stretches over the East River, connecting Lower Manhattan to Williamsburg, Brooklyn, and carries the J, M and Z subway lines, a bike path and a walkway, in addition to its eight lanes of vehicle capacity

Since april 2017, there is a new campaign could give the 114-year-old marvel a new name: the Sonny Rollins Bridge. Now, many may find themselves wondering, “Who is Sonny Rollins?” 

clayson guse, from timeout magazine new york, found out that one New Yorker is on a mission to answer that question. Since last spring, Jeff Caltabiano has been campaigning to rename the bridge after Rollins, one of the most influential jazz saxophonists of the 20th century.

Emission "Who is" de la BBC 2 Producer / Director : Dick Fontaine Produced by Allan King Associates Canada LTD. 1968

In “Who Is Sonny Rollins,” a short BBC documentary from 1968 (click on the image to watch), he speaks a little about the atmosphere: “Usually, I don’t pay too much attention to the trains—I’m usually absorbed in what I’m doing,” he said. “I’m sure subconsciously I change what I’m playing to blend with the sound of the train,” he admitted. “It all has its effect.” He also spoke about solitude—what it offered him. “Eventually I want to communicate, but it might take being alone to communicate.”

Sonny Rollins is the bridge between the old jazz and the new jazz. He is the bridge from Miles Davis and Duke Ellington to The Rolling Stones.
— Erik Lawrence, a saxophonist and flutist, sound and vibrational healer, educator, journalist, and poet based in New York City.

Sonny rollins is the bridge between miles davis (left) and the rolling stones (right).


In 1959, then at the height of his career, Rollins went on a sabbatical from recording and touring to take up residency on the Lower East Side. Struggling to find a space to practice where he wouldn’t disturb his neighbors, he wandered out onto the pedestrian walkway of the Williamsburg Bridge. He practiced there regularly for two years in a stint that’s since become essential New York lore and the inspiration for Caltabiano’s campaign to rename the bridge.

That campaign has caught the attention of at least one City Council member. Stephen Levin of the 33rd district announced last week that he will be introducing legislation to name the bridge after Rollins. The move also has the support of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, according to Bowery Boogie.


under the williamsburg bridge


jeff Caltabiano was recently chatting with amanda petrusich, a staff writer at the new yorker. "he was wearing sunglasses, but I saw his forehead loosen a little," she tells. “This is about freedom,” he said, gesturing around. it resonates with amanda who thinks that "The wind blew. Growth, change, self-preservation. I understood what he meant."

This is a very new-york style tale. One that you can also experience in person, and even have a customized short film made especially to register your experience in Williamsburg.


watch a short documentary about sonny rollins


SONNY ROLLINS BRIDGE is a documentary video about saxophonist Sonny Rollins' musical sabbatical on New York's Williamsburg Bridge from 1959-61. The Sonny Rollins Bridge Project is campaigning to rename the bridge to commemorate Rollins' famous sabbatical. This documentary was filmed on June 13, 2017, on the Williamsburg Bridge, which connects Manhattan and Brooklyn. All of the music was composed by Sonny Rollins and performed live by Eric Wyatt, Erik Lawrence, Gene Ghee, and Jovan Alexandre.

Big fan of Jazz and vinyls?  Click here to learn more

Big fan of Jazz and vinyls? Click here to learn more


the bridge on the map




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