Musical and Spiritual Retreat on Williamsburg Bridge
In 1959, saxophonist Sonny Rollins was at the height of his fame: already considered one of the best tenor saxophonists and improvisers of the time, he released about twenty albums, composed several hits, played with some of the greatest jazzmen in history including Charlie Parker and John Coltrane... However, when summer came, he disappeared from the stage. "I didn’t feel I was playing well enough; not as well as I wanted." he said.
He will not record or perform in public for more than two years, an significant period for the jazzmen of the time.
« One day I was on Delancey Street, and I walked up the steps to the Williamsburg Bridge and came to this big expanse. There was nobody up there. So I started walking across the bridge and said, "Wow. This is what I have been looking for. This is a private place. I can blow my horn as loud as I want." Because the boats are coming under, and the subway is coming across, and cars, and I knew it was perfect, just serendipity. »
In order not to bother his neighbours, Sonny Rollins then secretly began training on Williamsburg Bridge almost daily. From the summer of 1959 to the autumn of 1961, the only way to hear him play was to go over this bridge. He usually played there alone, up to 16 hours a day. The musician also took advantage of this sabbatical to take up yoga, exercise, quit smoking, immerse himself in spiritual texts...
When Sonny Rollins finally returned to the stage in November 1961, he was a changed man. The album The Bridge (1962) will be inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2015. Sonny Rollins would continue his career for another half-century, recording over 50 albums, performing in the world's greatest concert halls, collaborating with Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, Max Roach, the Rolling Stones, Leonard Cohen... In 2004 he received a Grammy Award for lifetime achievement.
On the occasion of the Marciac Jazz Festival in 2012, the SELMER house offered Sonny Rollins a unique saxophone made especially for him: a gift for the loyalty he has always shown to the brand throughout his immense career.
Tribute to a living legend
A jazz enthusiast, Jeff Caltabiano launched an initiative in 2017 to rename the Williamsburg Bridge "Sonny Rollins Bridge" to pay tribute to the musician and his immense contribution to the history of jazz. It is also to commemorate a salutary sabbatical for the musician, to celebrate his tireless spiritual and musical quest.
A bill was recently introduced in New York City Council. Council member Stephen Levin, the sponsor of the bill, said:
« Looking around New York City you’ll see plenty of monuments to politicians. You won’t see many monuments to cultural pioneers that embody the spirit of the city. The story of Sonny Rollins and the Williamsburg Bridge is a distinctly New York cultural story. It is a tale of transformation and transcendence. When Sonny started his sabbatical on the bridge he left behind unwelcome parts of his life. He gave up vices, turning instead to exercise, yoga, and honing his craft. In some ways this city serves the same purpose as the bridge did for Sonny. People come from all over, leaving everything behind to become something more. »