Emon Hassan for The New York Times Shirley Zafirau underneath the sign on West 77th Street that will be renamed “Miles Davis Way,” in honor of the jazz musician who lived on the Upper West Side block. Ms. Zafirau led the campaign to rename the street.
For about 25 years, until the mid-1980s, Miles Davis, the legendary jazz trumpeter who died in 1991, lived in an apartment building at 312 West 77th Street, where he enjoyed a well-established New York City tradition: loitering outside on the stoop, greeting passers-by and chatting with neighbors.
“He interacted with the community on the street,” said, Shirley Zafirau, a neighbor of Davis, who still lives on the block. “He really liked being here.”
Ms. Zafirau believed that Davis’s long tenure on the block deserved to be memorialized and so embarked on a campaign to have the block renamed after him. It was a long process that included numerous phone calls and emails to city officials, many visits to the local community board and the attending of several City Council hearings.
Her effort finally bore fruit when Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg signed a bill on Tuesday officially renaming West 77th Street between Riverside Drive and West End Avenue as “Miles Davis Way.”
Ms. Zafirau first got the notion about five years ago when she was studying to obtain a tour guide license from the city’s Department of Consumer Affairs. She learned that many well-known jazz musicians — Duke Ellington, Chico O’Farrill and John Hicks, among others — had streets named after them. “So I wondered – why isn’t Miles recognized in the same way on this block?” she said, sitting in the garden duplex apartment a few doors away from Davis’s building where she has lived since the 1960s.
The local community board gave her a lukewarm reception, questioning if Davis really lived that long on the block and whether he merited such a distinction. Instead, the board suggested a cultural medallion outside the building from the Historic Landmarks Preservation Center. But Ms. Zafirau believed it to be a somewhat lesser honor because it does not encompass the entire block.
The effort to place a medallion on the building also failed for bureaucratic reasons. But Ms. Zafirau continued to press her case for a street renaming and enlisted a former chairman of the local community board to be her ally and use his connections on the Council. The Council voted last week to approve the renaming.
“It’s a great honor for my uncle,” said Vince Wilburn Jr., a nephew of Davis. “The family is very excited about it.”
Mr. Wilburn, a drummer and music producer who divides his time between Los Angeles and New York, fondly recalled spending summers with his uncle at the brownstone as a child in the 1970s.
“People used to come by all the time,” he said, mentioning jazz legends like Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Dizzy Gillespie, Art Blakey and Tony Williams, who rented an apartment in the building, which is where Davis created the music for celebrated albums such as “Kind of Blue” and “Bitches Brew.”
Mr. Wilburn himself joined the rehearsals there and played drums on five Davis albums, including “Man With the Horn.”