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Sax-rilege! Local pol wants to rename Williamsburg Bridge after jazz great from outer boro - Brooklyn Paper

Sax-rilege! Local pol wants to rename Williamsburg Bridge after jazz great from outer boro

New identity: The Williamsburg Bridge could soon be renamed the Sonny Rollins Williamsburg Bridge if Councilman Steven Levin’s bill to christen it for the jazz musician passes.
File photo by Stefano Giovannini

Call it a bridge naming too far.

A Brooklyn councilman wants to christen the Williamsburg Bridge for Manhattanite and jazz great Sonny Rollins, but said he isn’t betraying Kings County by suggesting the span share its name with an outsider because the crossing is for residents of both boroughs.

“The Williamsburg Bridge belongs to neither Manhattan nor Brooklyn, it belongs to everyone,” said Councilman Steven Levin (D–Williamsburg). “I’m a jazz fan and a lover of music in general. I’m a lover of the arts and in this instance, I think I’m willing to cross over the bridge.”

The pol picked up the cause after reading a New Yorker article about another Manhattan resident who started a campaign to name the span after the saxophonist last year, he said. Rollins, 87, practiced on the crossing’s pedestrian path every day between 1959 and 1961 when he lived nearby.

Many of the city’s bridges are christened after local political figures and the councilman wants to celebrate some of its artists for a change, he said.

“We have so many landmarks in our city named after politicians and I thought why not name a landmark after somebody who has contributed to our cultural identity here in New York?” he said, citing the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge, which was named after the former mayor, and the Hugh L. Carey Battery Tunnel, which honors the former governor.

A Queens pol opposed renaming the former span after Koch when city officials announced the idea in 2011, arguing it would be more appropriate to name something emblematic of the entire city after the now-deceased politico instead of the outer borough’s namesake crossing.

Similarly, Levin contended that Rollins’ songs are symbolic of music from across New York City, but claimed that co-naming the span for the saxophonist won’t detract from the Brooklyn neighborhood at one end of it.

“We’re not trying to take anything away from Williamsburg,” he said. “I think it would be a good way of representing New York City traditions and jazz artists in general.”

A bill proposing the designation is currently being drafted and will be introduced in Council soon, according to the pol. If approved, the span would officially become the Sonny Rollins Williamsburg Bridge, although, as with other crossings, it’s likely most people will continue to refer to it by its shorter, original name.

Levin, who said he is a big Rollins fan, has never seen him perform live.

But he said he hopes there will soon be an occasion for the horn-blower to play, perhaps on the same path where he practiced more than a half-century ago.

“That would be great,” he said.

Reach reporter Lauren Gill at lgill@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Blow, baby, blow: Jazz legend Sonny Rollins, a Manhattanite, practiced on the Williamsburg Bridge’s pedestrian path every day between 1959 and 1961 when he lived nearby.
Associated Press / Junji Kurokawa

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