This sublime short film is about “saxophone colossus” Sonny Rollins’ two-year musical sabbatical playing on New York’s Williamsburg Bridge from 1959-61, and what he found there.
Born in 1930, Rollins began playing professionally in his teens and by the of 28 was the most influential saxophonist of his era. In the summer of 1959 at the top of his game but wanting to improve his playing, he took a radical step. He dropped out of the Harlem jazz scene and moved to the lower east side “the other end of the universe”. Unable to practice in his apartment, he realized he could play solo on the Williamsburg Bridge between Manhattan and Brooklyn.
The bridge was his wood shed, his solitude, his connection to the creator.
The Williamsburg bridge was like his sacred ground. This was like his place to come pray, like a temple.
There’s a lot of things he gained from playing on the bridge. It definitely helped his improvisation…
The film segues perfectly with this spectacular New York Times interview made several years after Rollins stopped playing for good due to pulmonary fibrosis. He was asked this question:
Something I’ve heard musicians talk about is losing their sense of self when they’re playing, and how that’s when the best improvisations can happen. What does that say about the true nature of the self?
R: It says that there are divine moments in this world. This world is not what it’s cracked up to be. This world is just a place to pay off our karma. That’s all. There’s something huge happening, and it’s a matter of feeling. It’s different than having book knowledge. The thing I’m talking about is more like intuition. Something is there. I’ve had experiences which have allowed me to know that.
There’s something huge happening, and it’s a matter of feeling.
One thought on “Sonny Rollins on Losing Yourself In the Divine and His Sabbatical Playing on the Williamsburg Bridg”
Yes, Rollin’s is a deeply spiritual man and musical visionary, however, the primary reason he practiced on the bridge was because one of his neighbors had just had a baby and he didn’t want to disturb them. There is a recent article in the New York Times where he talks quite a bit about the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. A desperately needed antidote in our present society.