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

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.
Brooklyn Paper
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

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 or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her on Twitter @laurenk_gill
Updated 5:53 pm, July 9, 2018
Today’s news:
Share on TwitterTweet
Share on Facebook

Don’t miss our updates:

Reasonable discourse

Baby says:
This is retarded.
Oct. 27, 2017, 3:56 am
Petey from Sunset Park says:
So let me get this straight. He is a jazz fan so he wants to rename the bridge. Hmmm. Retarded is too kind a word to use for this self indulgent, self centered jerk.
Oct. 27, 2017, 8:39 am
Capt'n Ron says:
If you rename it, it should be called New Jersey Bridge to mess with the hipsters.
Oct. 27, 2017, 9:57 am
Joey from Clinton Hills says:
This is a great idea! The Sonny Rollins Bridge - are there any NYC bridges named for an african american?
Oct. 27, 2017, 10:26 am
Tyler from pps says:
Remember when the bridge names actually helped us navigate -- rather than commemorative names that are quite unhelpful.
Oct. 27, 2017, 11:40 am
Anne from Cobble Hill says:
Love Sonny Rollins for decades, but the Williamsburg Bridge deserves to keep its' name. What is the new name of the Triborough Bridge? - and how often are people confused? lots! We do need some reality in naming Bridges that help us get places. There's the Brooklyn Bridge, Manhattan Bridge, and the Queensboro Bridge and they make sense. The Verrazano has always had that name as it was built in the 1970's. Naming major Bridges after people most people don't even know is simply like fake news. Sonny Rollins is not more recognizable or helpful for people going to/from Williamsburg. Name a Street, Ave., Music Hall, School for Sonny Rollins who I'm sure would agree with me.
Oct. 27, 2017, 2:10 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Honestly, I don't see a reason why this bridge should renamed for him. Most won't even be using that name anyway as they don't for many of the other bridges and tunnels that got special names. Also, I see this as a waste of money, which may explain why some agencies always feel as if they are over budget. Just name the block he lived on after him, and that probably costs less as so many other local figures do. Overall, I just don't feel that Sonny Rollins deserves to have a bridge named after him.
Oct. 27, 2017, 4:44 pm
Jeff Caltabiano, Sonny Rollins Bridge Project from Lower East Side says:
This article, about the effort to rename the bridge for Sonny Rollins, overlooked key parts of the jazz legend and native New Yorker’s biography connecting him with Brooklyn.

In fact, Rollins lived in Brooklyn for a decade after he and his wife, Lucille, moved from the Lower East Side in the early 1960s to Clinton Hill. He lived in the borough from 1962-1972.

Rollins being born a Manhattanite was not exactly a matter of choice. When he was born in Harlem in 1930 to immigrant parents from the U.S. Virgin Islands, New York City was largely segregated: blacks made up only 3 percent of Brooklyn’s population and Harlem was an enclave of African-Americans and immigrants from the West Indies. Now, more than a third of Brooklynites are black, and 41 percent of the city’s black population call the borough home.

During the height of his career in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, Rollins played many of the now largely-forgotten jazz clubs of Brooklyn. During his sabbatical from 1959-61, he would sometimes meet his close friend Charles Wyatt, a Brooklynite, on the Williamsburg Bridge to practice. The image of two New York musicians, standing together on the bridge that connects the two boroughs, working together on their craft, is a testament to the powerful bonds the city’s artists represent. Soon after his sabbatical ended, Rollins crossed the bridge by moving to Brooklyn in 1962, living at 195 Willoughby Walk.

When construction of the Williamsburg Bridge commenced in 1896, it was intended to bridge the two cities of New York and Brooklyn. However, the five boroughs were consolidated in 1898. So, at the time of the bridge’s opening in 1903, what began as a link of the two cities ended as a link of two boroughs. That link continues today.

We at the Sonny Rollins Bridge Project would like to see the span that connects so many New Yorkers with each other to named for a cultural icon, just like the Gil Hodges Memorial Bridge and the Jackie Robinson Parkway (named for other Brooklyn legends, born in Indiana and Georgia, respectively). It would be a fitting and appropriate way to honor the city’s long jazz tradition and the contributions of a born-and-bred New Yorker like Rollins.

Sonny Rollins’ journey of self-determination and self-discovery on the Bridge is one all New Yorkers can admire. Rollins is a living legend with a strong sense of peace and justice. Naming the bridge in his honor will give us a place for locals (from all boroughs) and from parts beyond to reflect on his influence as a musician, human being, and cultural icon, one whose life and work has been about building bridges.

We encourage you to watch the short documentary video we made:

Thank you.
Oct. 27, 2017, 8:19 pm
Morris from Mill Basin says:
Everyone who doesn't like Sonny Rollins needs to be killed.
Oct. 28, 2017, 6:51 am
Jim from Cobble Hill says:
Stop re-naming things! I am always gonna call it the Battery Tunnel, I am always gonna call it The Triborough Bridge, I am always gonna call it Shea Stadium (I don't care how many new ones they build), and I am never calling these things anything else. So if you want to name something after someone, BUILD SOMETHING NEW that crosses the river, lord knows the City could really use it.
Oct. 28, 2017, 7:47 am
Katie from South Slope says:
Is he just threatened because the current name of this bridge (the 59th street bridge) is also the title of the famous lesbían anthem feeling groovy?
I'm genuinely curious. Sorry, not sorry!
Oct. 28, 2017, 10:05 am
Eric from Sunnyside says:
I'm already calling it the Sonny Rollins Bridge and will be doing so, regardless of official action. Naming things after people celebrates local history and culture. Sonny brought more life to the bridge than a bunch of drivers choking up the neighborhoods on either side.
Oct. 28, 2017, 4:10 pm
Morris from Mill Basin says:
My comments are really, really, really stupid. Please kill me.
Oct. 29, 2017, 8:38 am
Cathy from Queens says:
Eric - great idea! You call it that. I'll call it the Mickey Mouse bridge, and someone else can call it whatever name suits them. Why should we all the same commonly known name? Why not name it after a person no one has ever heard of, which gives less indication of where it is?
Oct. 29, 2017, 10:51 am
Monique Tableaux from Brooklyn says:
Apparently Sonnie Rollins hated this bridge. Naming it after him, whoever he was, would only be an insult to his memory (or forgettery as the case may be). This man doesn't love jazz - he hates it.
Nov. 2, 2017, 5:26 am

Comments closed.

First name
Last name
Your neighborhood
Email address
Daytime phone

Your letter must be signed and include all of the information requested above. (Only your name and neighborhood are published with the letter.) Letters should be as brief as possible; while they may discuss any topic of interest to our readers, priority will be given to letters that relate to stories covered by The Brooklyn Paper.

Letters will be edited at the sole discretion of the editor, may be published in whole or part in any media, and upon publication become the property of The Brooklyn Paper. The earlier in the week you send your letter, the better.

Keep it local!

Stay in touch with your community. Subscribe to our free newsletter: