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Sonny Rollins and the Williamsburg Bridge, Jazz Legend Reflects on Practicing 'In the Sky'

By Ian Holubiak i.holubiak@classicalite.com on Apr 30, 2015 05:44 PM EDT

On the streets of New York City anything goes, even for the stranded musician who has been forced out of their apartment to practice. As is the case with Sonny Rollins, he found his musical right to rehearse on the Williamsburg Bridge.

The 1950s proved to be a sonic melting pot for many a-player. In Washington Square Park, folkies were reviving songs from the dearly departed Americana songbook, coexisting with a generation of poets that would soon spill over the next decade and into the early phases of the Civil Rights Movement.

So where in the world was a saxophone player supposed to find a moment to play?

Perhaps in a nightclub, yes, but for Mr. Rollins it wasn't the tide outside that prevented him from practicing. As he mentions in an article at The New York Times, his drummer's pregnant wife pushed him onto Delancey Street, dangling him at the mouth of the Williamsburg Bridge just down the road.

He writes: "One day I was on Delancey Street, and I walked up the steps to the Williamsburg Bridge and came to this big expanse. Nobody was there, and it was beautiful. I went to the bridge to practice just about every day for two years."

And he even acquired a new sense of volume: "I would walk north from Grand Street, two blocks up to Delancey Street, and then from Delancey Street down to the entrance of the bridge. Playing against the sky really does improve your volume, and your wind capacity. I could have just stayed up there forever. But Lucille was supporting us, and I had to go back to work."

While Sonny may have been the subject of some, otherwise humorous, satire at The New Yorker, he reigns supreme as jazz's living legend. And as New York departs one of the coldest winters to date, the Bridge becomes a practice ground for musicians of any stripe just as it was for Sonny.

But Rollins echoes to those who escape for too long, "You can't be in heaven and on earth at the same time."

Get down with some Rollins below, too.

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TagsSonny Rollins, New Yorker, New York Times, Williamsburg Bridge, Sax and the Sky, Civil Rights Movement

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