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The Changing Social and Economic Life of American Cities.

The host of NPR's Talk of the Nation, Ray Suarez. He's the author of the new book, "The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration, 1966-1999" (The Free Press)

15:37

Other segments from the episode on May 6, 1999

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 6, 1999: Interview with Dave Brubeck; Interview with Ray Suarez.

Transcript

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MAY 06, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 050601np.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: A Look at the Early Career of Jazz Musician Dave Brubeck
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Fifty years ago, polls in the two leading jazz magazines, "Metronome" and "Downbeat," selected pianist Dave Brubeck's group as the best instrumental group of the year. Five years later Brubeck was on the cover of "Time" magazine.

Forty years ago, the Dave Brubeck Quartet released their album "Time Out," which included the tune "Take Five," and became the first jazz album to sell a million copies. In celebration of Brubeck's 50-year recording career, Columbia Records recently reissued several Brubeck CDs.

We invited Dave Brubeck to do a little retrospective of his career. Before we meet him, let's listen to his composition "Three To Get Ready" from the "Time Out" album, an album that illustrated the group's approach to counterpoint and eccentric rhythms. Paul Desmond is featured on alto saxophone; Eugene Wright, bass; Joe Morello, drums.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET PERFORMING "THREE TO GET READY")

GROSS: Dave Brubeck, welcome to FRESH AIR.

DAVE BRUBECK, JAZZ PIANIST, COMPOSER: Thank you.

GROSS: Now, you grew up in Concord, California. Your mother was a classical piano teacher; did she give you lessons?

BRUBECK: Yeah. I had two older brothers, Henry and Howard, that also took lessons from my mother. And half the community, the people interested in piano, studied with her.

GROSS: Was it hard to study with your mother?

BRUBECK: Yeah. It wasn't so bad for my brothers, but I kind of rebelled.

GROSS: How and why?

BRUBECK: How and why. I wanted to be like my father, who was a cattleman and a rodeo roper. And that -- he was my hero, and I wanted to be more like him. So my mother allowed me to stop taking lessons when I was 11. And we moved to a 45,000-acre cattle ranch where I spent my last year in grammar school and my high school years. And all summer I worked with my father. Then I went off to college to study veterinary medicine.

GROSS: In the hope that you'd be a help on the ranch?

BRUBECK: Yeah, so I could -- I had to go to college, according to my mother, like my brothers. I didn't ever want to leave my dad or my dad's ranch. My dad was the manager of the 45,000-acre ranch, but he owned his own 1,200-acre ranch. And I owned four cattle that he gave to me when I graduated from grammar school -- from the eighth grade.

And those cows multiplied, and he kept track of them for years for me. And that was my herd.

GROSS: You know, I'm used to seeing you behind the piano; it's hard for me to imagine you as a cowboy.

BRUBECK: Well, I could send you pictures.

LAUGHTER

And there even are some, what we call, movies. In those days some of the very first kind of home movies were -- I'm with my dad lassing and branding and a big round up. So it is documented.

GROSS: Did you sing cowboy songs?

BRUBECK: Oh, all of them. Yeah. When they were real cowboy songs, like "Strawberry Roam" and "Little Joe the Wrangler," tunes that people don't sing anymore. I loved those songs.

The words can still make me cry, and I used to make my kids cry by singing.

"Joe you take my saddle
Bill you take my bed
Jim you take my pistol
After I am dead

And think of me please kindly
When you look upon them all
For I'll not see my mother
When the work's all done next fall"

Now that's a cowboy tune.

GROSS: Did you like singing?

BRUBECK: Oh, yeah. I used to sing that and play my ukulele.

GROSS: Ukulele? Oh, wow.

LAUGHTER

BRUBECK: Some of my friends played guitar -- cowboy songs, yeah.

GROSS: Let me get back to what we were talking about, which was life on the cattle ranch. And there were two cattle ranches in your life, the one that your father owned and the larger one that he managed.

Did you have really strong arms and hands from the work, and do you think that that helped you as a piano player?

BRUBECK: It didn't hurt. My mother would not allow my dad to have me rope anything larger than a yearling, because she didn't want my fingers to become hurt. And my uncle, who was also a rodeo roper, got his finger caught between the saddle horn and the rope and it took his finger right off.

And he used to kid the other cowboys and say, "I would've been a great pianist like my nephew Dave had I not lost this finger."

GROSS: Was your mother convinced that you were going to become a pianist or she was just worried about your fingers on general principle?

BRUBECK: Well, she thought that I had a certain amount of talent that I was not developing. And so after my first years as a veterinary pre-med I switched to the music department, which was across the lawn.

GROSS: Mmm-hmm.

BRUBECK: And that was at the advice of my zoology teacher, Dr. Arnold.

LAUGHTER

He said, "Brubeck, your mind is not here with these frogs in the formaldehyde. Your mind is across the lawn at the conservatory. Will you please go over there next year?"

GROSS: How did he know?

BRUBECK: I guess he just seen me become kind of blank and be listening to everybody practicing and the music drifting away from what he was trying to teach me.

GROSS: Now, I think in spite of the fact that you studied piano with your mother as a boy you weren't very good at reading music. How well could you read when you started majoring in music in college?

BRUBECK: I couldn't read. And that caused a lot of trouble in the conservatory. So I hid it until I was a senior by not taking piano. The other instruments were cello and clarinet and so I was just playing scales and getting by and doing the subjects I had to pass.

But in my senior year they said you have to take piano. And the piano teacher in five minutes ran downstairs to the dean and said, "Brubeck can't read at all." So the dean said, "you know, you're a disgrace to the conservatory and we can't graduate you."

And when some of the younger teachers heard this they went to the dean and they said you're making a big mistake because he writes the best counterpoint that I've ever had, said Dr. Brown. And Dr. Bodly (ph) went in and said you're wrong. This guy is talented.

So they convinced the dean to let me graduate. If I -- and the dean said, "you can graduate if you promise never to teach and embarrass the conservatory." So that's the way I graduated. And that's the way I've gotten through life, is having to substitute other things for not being able to read well.

But I can write, which is something very few people understand.

GROSS: Well, you know, I thought we might pause here and listen to another recently re-released recording. And this features you with the great singer Jimmy Rushing. Now, you haven't done a lot of work with singers over the years, at least not that I'm aware of.

Tell me how you managed to do this session with Jimmy Rushing, who had sung with Basie. And he's considered a great blues singer, but he's also a great singer of swing tunes and standards.

BRUBECK: I was on tour with Jimmy in England, and we had to take the train together to the next city. So we were riding in the train for about three hours, and he said, "Dave, I want to do an album with you."

And I said, "I don't think I'm in the right group for you, Jimmy." And he said, "I know you're the right group. I've been listening to you for years, and I'm going to set this up at Columbia Records as soon as we get back."

GROSS: Why don't we hear you and Jimmy Rushing doing "There'll Be Some Changes Made."

BRUBECK: Oh.

GROSS: You like that?

BRUBECK: Yeah.

GROSS: Yeah, so do I. And this is from the recently reissued 1960 recording, "Brubeck & Rushing: The Dave Brubeck Quartet Featuring Jimmy Rushing."

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- JAZZ PIANIST DAVE BRUBECK AND VOCALIST JIMMY RUSHING PERFORMING "THERE'LL BE SOME CHANGES MADE")

There's a change in the weather
Change in the sea
From now on there'll be a change in me
What will be different

My (unintelligible)
Nothing about me is going to be the same
Change my (unintelligible)
For a (unintelligible)

Change my number where I'm stopping at
Nobody wants you when you're old and gray
There'll be some changes made today
There'll be some changes made

Change in the weather
Change in the sea
From now on there'll be a change in me
What will be different

My talk and my name
Nothing about me is going to be the same
Change my (unintelligible)
For a little short (unintelligible)

Change my number where I'm stopping at
Nobody wants you when you're old gray
There'll be some changes made today
There'll be some changes

Oh some changes made
There'll be some changes made

GROSS: Dave Brubeck with Jimmy Rushing. That record is being used in a current commercial on TV. We'll talk more with Dave Brubeck after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: My guest is pianist and composer Dave Brubeck.

Moving along with the story of your life, you were in the Army, I think, toward the end of World War II. Did you see combat?

BRUBECK: I saw it.

LAUGHTER

GROSS: OK. Didn't participate, huh?

BRUBECK: I avoided participation, but I, you know, I was in the Battle of the Bulge. And I was on the wrong side of the lines. I was in German territory.

GROSS: How did you end up in German territory?

BRUBECK: We didn't know where we were, and everything was going wrong. And so the truck driver just took the wrong turn, and I was up there to play the show for the front-line troops with my band which were all infantry guys that had been wounded.

When I say, "all" -- most. But the guys in my band had been wounded. And when they'd come back behind the lines, if they were musicians, the doctors would send them to me or who was ever interviewing them. So I had a good band.

And a band that was very accepted at the front-line because if you wore your Purple Heart -- the front-line guys are hard to reach. The USO people usually didn't go up that close, and also they would have trouble reaching guys in the morning were going to face a terrible kind of life.

But my guys could reach them because they'd been there since D-Day. Some of them had been three months at the front. And so it made it a lot easier for the soldiers to accept my band.

GROSS: After the war was over you went back to college on a GI Bill, and I think it was then that you studied with the French composer Darius Milhaud. Had you known Milhaud's work very well?

BRUBECK: Well, my brother was his assistant.

GROSS: Oh.

BRUBECK: Howard. And just before I went into the Army I went to see Milhaud and ask him if, when I got out, I could come back and study with him. And he said I could. So that's exactly what I did on the GI Bill. I went, directly after I got out of the Army, back to Mills College and studied with him.

GROSS: And were you expecting then to write classical music?

BRUBECK: Yeah. And he would tell me don't give up jazz. He said, "you can do that so well why do you want to give it up and become a classical composer?" And so we discussed that a lot. And then he said, "look, if you're going to compose you have to use the jazz idiom or you won't represent this country."

And he said, "my favorite composers are Duke Ellington and George Gershwin." And this really surprised me because you wouldn't have heard that probably any other conservatory in the country. But you see, Milhaud was the first guy -- first European composer -- to use the jazz idiom in classical music, a piece called "The Creation and the World" -- a ballet.

So he would say, don't ever give up jazz. You're free. You can go any place in the world where there's a piano and you can play and you can make a living. And you don't have to teach or do some of the things that other composers have to do in order to survive.

And he said, "and the worst thing you want to get out of are faculty meetings." And I think that's a good reason not to become a teacher in a university or college.

GROSS: So it sounds like he gave you some good advice.

BRUBECK: Oh, yeah. He said travel the world. Keep your ears open. Bring back everything you hear. Put it in the jazz idiom. And that's what I did. I still follow his advice.

GROSS: Well, I want to play a 1956 recording. And this is your recording of "The Duke," which you've described as your tribute to both Duke Ellington and Darius Milhaud.

BRUBECK: Right.

GROSS: And Ellington, also, you know, was wonderful at connecting classical form and jazz. Do you want to say anything else about this composition before we hear it?

BRUBECK: Well, it is one of my favorite compositions. And the second theme is where I use Milhaud kind of influences with polytonality, which wasn't being done too much in early jazz. It was being done some, but Milhaud was a master of that.

And then the first part is just kind of my impression of Duke's wonderful band.

GROSS: Let's hear it. This is "The Duke," composed and performed by my guest Dave Brubeck.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- JAZZ PIANIST AND COMPOSER DAVE BRUBECK PERFORMING "THE DUKE")

GROSS: That's Dave Brubeck from his recently reissued CD "Brubeck Plays Brubeck." It's one of several albums recently reissued by Columbia in celebration of Brubeck's 50-year recording career. Dave Brubeck will be back in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with composer and pianist Dave Brubeck. Columbia Records recently reissued several CDs in celebration of his 50th anniversary as a recording artist. Let's hear a track from one of the reissued CDs. From the CD "Brubeck Time," this is "Audrey." Composed by Brubeck and alto saxophonist Paul Desmond.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- JAZZ PIANIST DAVE BRUBECK PERFORMING "AUDREY")

GROSS: The recording we just heard was released 45 years ago, which was the same year that you were on the cover of "Time" magazine. What was the impact of this recording, "Brubeck Time," on your career?

BRUBECK: Well, it's a wonderful time in my life because we had been struggling for years to get to be more known. And as you mentioned, the cover of "Time" magazine was really something that helped us a lot.

But when you mentioned "Audrey," it was Audrey Hepburn that we had in mind. And we never realized that she ever had heard this tune. There was no communication like that. And because she was so important at the United Nations for the work she did with children, when they did a memorial service for her there her husband asked that they play what you just played.

And they said that she usually played it every night or put it on her headphones as she walked through her garden in Switzerland. So it was wonderful to hear that. I wish Paul Desmond had been around to know that she listened to it and liked it.

GROSS: Now, how was the recording "Brubeck Time" different from your previous recordings?

BRUBECK: Well, at that time I was starting to do different time signatures, but the record companies were kind of leery of getting out of the usual dance tempos that were mostly 4/4, and an occasional waltz. So eventually, after "Brubeck Time," we did "Time Out" which had "Take Five" and "Blue Rondo" and "Three to Get Ready;" and again, the record companies were a little afraid of it.

But against their wishes I forced them to put "Time Out" out. And it became the biggest seller they ever had in jazz.

GROSS: Now, your first record that I think really made an impression on the record buying public, I mean it got bought a lot, was "Jazz Goes to College."

BRUBECK: Mmm-hmm.

GROSS: And it was sessions recorded at three different colleges.

BRUBECK: Yeah.

GROSS: And, you know, there's a picture of you on it. You're wearing your glasses, and those glasses are really such a part of your image. And I think in part because that record was "Jazz Goes to College," and in part because of those kind of thick plastic glasses you maybe had the image of being what was known in those days as an "egghead."

BRUBECK: I wish I had. I'm not that smart. But people forget that at the same time we had a huge following at places like the Apollo Theater, the Howard Theater in Washington and the universities that they used to call black universities -- Afro-American universities.

We played the so-called black clubs all through the South where there were no white people came in. In some of the black clubs we were the only white group that came in. This is what I wish people would remember.

GROSS: Mmm-hmm.

BRUBECK: And we integrated many many universities in this country. And those are important things to remember. It wasn't just Ivy League places. We were really doing some work that people seem to forget how hard it was to do, where you had to have a police escort to the concert. And the president of the college refusing to let you go on and the students demanding you go on.

I could tell you a lot of stories about that.

GROSS: The problem was that you were white or that one of the musicians in the band was black?

BRUBECK: Eugene Wright was black, yeah.

GROSS: So that was a...

BRUBECK: ... and we couldn't do some television shows, because in those days you couldn't have black and white together. One show I had to turn down Duke Ellington took, because at the moment he had an all-black band. Sometimes Duke would have a white drummer like Louis Belson (ph), and that would maybe give him problems.

They just didn't want mixed groups on television.

GROSS: Let me play what might be the most famous of the Brubeck Quartet recordings and that's "Take Five," which you recorded in 1959. Would you talk about this composition? It's a Desmond composition, but I think you worked with him on it.

BRUBECK: Yeah, Paul has done a radio show in Canada before he died where he said, I'm so fortunate that Dave assigned me to do the section in 5/4. Because that was the one track I wanted Paul to do as a solo for my percussionist, the great drummer Joe Morello. Because Joe would often play in 5/4 time backstage, which is a time signature that was very rarely, if ever, used in jazz.

So I would hear Paul start to improvise over Joe playing on a drum pad before he'd go onstage. And so I said, just write some of the melodies, the ideas that you're doing and bring it to rehearsal in a few days. And that's what happened.

He came and he had some ideas that I thought were great. The first thing he said, "I can't write anything in 5/4. I've tried and tried." I said, "let me see what you've got." So he showed me what he had and I said, "I can put this together and it will be great."

And I put what he had together as "Theme One," "Theme Two." And that's how the thing was born. And I named it "Take Five," and he objected to that name. And I said, "why, Paul?" And he said, "nobody knows what `take five' means. What does it mean?"

I said, "everybody knows but you, Paul Desmond, what `take five' means." So I argued with him and I kept that title, which I think is a great title. Then of course I later wrote the words to it.

So I had a little bit to do with this tune.

GROSS: Well, before we hear it, I want to thank you very much for talking with us about your early career. It's really been a pleasure. Thank you so much.

BRUBECK: Thank you, Terry.

GROSS: And this is "Take Five," the Dave Brubeck Quartet, recorded in 1959.

(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP -- THE DAVE BRUBECK QUARTET PERFORMING "TAKE FIVE")

GROSS: The Dave Brubeck Quartet playing "Take Five." Columbia Records has recently reissued several of Brubeck's albums, and he has a new CD on Telac (ph) Jazz called, "The 40th Anniversary Tour of the UK."

This is FRESH AIR.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Dave Brubeck
High: Jazz pianist/composer Dave Brubeck. He turns 80 next year and has been recording for 50 years. There are several new collections of his work: "The Dave Brubeck Collection," which reissues five of his classic out-of-print LPs, and Dave Brubeck: Time Signature: A Career Retrospective."
Spec: Entertainment; Music Industry; Lifestyle; Culture; Dave Brubeck

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: A Look at the Early Career of Jazz Musician Dave Brubeck

Show: FRESH AIR
Date: MAY 06, 1999
Time: 12:00
Tran: 050602NP.217
Type: FEATURE
Head: NPR's Ray Suarez Dicusses Suburban Migration
Sect: News; Domestic
Time: 12:45

TERRY GROSS, HOST: My guest Ray Suarez is the host of the NPR interview and phone-in program, "Talk of the Nation." Now Ray has written a new book about the changing social and economic life of American cities called, "The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration."

The book focuses on several cities, including Chicago, Cleveland, St. Louis, Philadelphia, Brooklyn, where Ray grew up, and Washington D.C. where he now lives with his family. We invited Ray to talk with us about the book and about his old neighborhood.

I asked which of the cities he profiled had done the most to reverse or prevent its decline.

RAY SUAREZ, HOST, "TALK OF THE NATION;" AUTHOR, "THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD: WHAT WE LOST IN THE GREAT SUBURBAN MIGRATION, 1966-1999": Cleveland has done a lot of hard work.

GROSS: Mmm-hmm.

SUAREZ: And a lot of it hasn't yet borne fruit, but I'm still pretty optimistic about Cleveland over the long haul. Over the short haul, I'm not. It's got a poverty rate approaching 50 percent. It's got a population loss of just about 50 percent. The net outflows still exceed the net inflows. But they're doing all the right things.

They're working with local lenders and developers to rebuild land that's been empty since the 1968 riots. They are taking such vacant land as there is in the city and thinking of new ways to build neighborhoods that will be affordable, appealing, give a sense of place. And a sense of permanence to people who are wondering whether this should be the time that they finally give up and leave Cleveland. So I saw a lot of things that really encouraged me in Cleveland.

I saw a lot of things to like in Brooklyn. I write at some length about a neighborhood called East Flatbush that had once been virtually all white, and is now virtually all-black, you know, 93, 94 percent. And contrary to the stereotype, contrary to the story line that we've assigned to neighborhoods that have turned from all white to all-black; its per capita income has gone up. Its housing purchase price has gone up. Its household income has gone up. And its average years of education has gone up.

So if people say, well, you know, once they come in that's it, game over. Which is the rationale that led to the neighborhood becoming all-black in the first place. It's nice to see a happy ending to that story.

In effect, a stable, peaceful, middle-class, hard-working black neighborhood.

GROSS: What do you attribute the stability to?

SUAREZ: The idea that those new homeowners wanted all the same things that those first homeowners wanted, a clean and decent place. A place near to public transportation with a good institutional inheritance: churches, schools, parks. And that they had a community organization.

Community organizations in all these cities that I visited end up being one of the main differences. Bank on Brooklyn -- yeah, that's what they call it, Bank on Brooklyn. And they pressured local banks to give mortgages when they hadn't been giving them. They pressured local merchants to stay when their impulse was to cut and run.

Even though the new people were of a similar household income, they still needed carpets; they still needed ice cream; they still needed kids shoes. When new minority populations move in they don't suddenly cease to need all the things that local merchants provided.

But they leave because they're afraid, and they're afraid that eventually they're going to have a store and a stock that they paid a lot of money for that nobody's going to buy.

I mean, I understand why this happens. That doesn't mean it should happen. They pressured local merchants. They said what do we need to do to make it possible for you to stay. They upgraded the sidewalks. They upgraded the signage. They made the shopping street inviting again.

And a lot of those merchants stayed.

GROSS: Can you think of a city that kind of blew it in the period of the migration from city to suburbs?

SUAREZ: I think most of these cities that I profile -- I think most of the cities in the Great Lakes, the Midwest and the Northeast blew it right after the Second World War. Something unusual had happened in American life. We had a depression that started in 1929 and lasted roughly for 10 years.

Then we had a world war that lasted all the way into the middle of the next decade. And during those years, if you look at Boston and New York and Chicago and Hartford and Pittsburgh and St. Louis, there was almost no residential construction for 16 years.

Families were sharing apartments that were built for one family. People postponed getting married because of the war or the depression, or both. People who were already married postponed having children, or the guy who was going to make it possible for you to get pregnant was in, you know, Guadalcanal or Anzio or someplace.

So there was all this naturally pent-up demand that was bursting -- it was in this container. In 1946, when hundreds of thousands of men and women demobilized from the Armed Forces where do they go? They either demobilize in San Diego, a place that they had never been before, and say, "I like this. I'm going to see if I can stay here."

So that's one new thing that's happening. Or they run home to their sweetheart or to their mother or father and start doing the things that 25 year olds to 26 year olds would have been doing had not Hitler and Mussolini and Tojo come along. So cities totally blew it by misreading what their people needed in 1946.

Then that basic misunderstanding of how they were going to have to adapt was compounded by a federal government that started to build highways like crazy leading right out of the city. And federal loan programs that mandated that these loans could only be used for new construction.

I don't think people have really taken account of just how much damage that did. Here you had this stock of existing houses that were perfectly livable, nice places. They were the pride of their owners and they had taken good care of them.

But by giving a guy and his new wife and his new kids a loan that says you can only by a newly built house, and New York and Chicago aren't building any of them and Philly's not building any of them, where do you go? Well, Mr. Levitt has a place that he wants you to go see out in Long Island. And that's what happened.

And all these three things together just beat the hell out of the city.

GROSS: If you're just joining us my guest is Ray Suarez. He's the host of NPR's "Talk of the Nation," and he has a new book called "The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration."

Ray, let's take a short break here and then we'll talk some more.

This is FRESH AIR.

BREAK

GROSS: My guest is Ray Suarez, the host of NPR's "Talk of the Nation" and the author of the new book "The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration."

You grew up in Brooklyn.

SUAREZ: Like you.

GROSS: Yeah, like me. Describe the neighborhood you grew up in.

SUAREZ: It was a largely middle-brow, middle-class blue and white collar; basically Eastern European Jews who were the descendants of earlier migration flows. And Italians, many of whom had come right to Bensonhurst from Italy.

So I grew up in a neighborhood where it was commonplace to hear people speaking in foreign languages on the street, comforting even in an odd way. I mean, to me Yiddish has a music to it. I can catch certain things -- I can catch certain things in conversation.

I'm not Jewish. I -- obviously, I don't speak Yiddish, but there's something that's sort of centering, contextualizing about hearing it. I just love it. And, you know, I learned a smattering of Italian as a kid. And then when I moved to Italy as an adult, suddenly it felt like I had Italian on deposit in my head from just hearing people speaking it.

It was a good place to grow up. It was occasionally a difficult place to grow up, but really not that often. And it was a place where there was enough of an economic mix, enough of a social mix, enough of every kind of possible mix except racial; that you got to see different routes in the neighborhood and different routes out of the neighborhood and think of them as possible.

GROSS: Did your family face any discrimination as Latinos in a neighborhood that was predominantly Jewish and Italian?

SUAREZ: Yeah. It wasn't as bad as it could have been because we were on the early edge, and people weren't -- their antenna weren't as keenly tuned. I mean, it wasn't terrible. It wasn't ugly. It was more kind of annoying and things that we would, inside the comfort of the bunker, you know, the apartment, we would laugh about people's projected assumptions.

A teacher came over to me one day and put her arm around me and stared deeply into my eyes and said, "if you want free lunch I don't want you to feel bad. You just tell me and I'll give you a form and you'll it bring home and your mother will sign it and we'll get you free lunch."

Now, OK, it's galling to have somebody assume that you need free lunch just because of who you are. But there was no -- I mean, the woman did it out of decent intentions but didn't -- wasn't on to herself enough to realize that...

GROSS: ... that she was making a certain assumption.

SUAREZ: Exactly.

GROSS: Yeah. What's your old neighborhood like now?

SUAREZ: It's amazing how much it's changed. I was talking to a friend of mine who I went high school with recently about it. And I said if they had come up to us when we were in the 11th grade and said 25 years from now this neighborhood is going to be full of people with head scarves chatting to each in Urdo.

And Russians -- and there's going to be business signs in Cyrillic letters. And we'll go down to the fruit market and all the guys bagging the tomatoes are going to be speaking Spanish to each other and there's going to be Indian dentists and -- I mean, we just never would have believed it in a hundred years.

It felt like a little isolated part of the borough that was never going to go through the things that the rest of Brooklyn did. Of course, that was an illusion too. Eventually, this was all going to come in.

But it came in in a way that -- with a few bumps along away. I mean, let's not forget poor Yusuf Hawkins and the fact that he was killed on the street in my neighborhood.

GROSS: This is Crown Heights?

SUAREZ: This is in Bensonhurst. I mean, I don't want to make it like I've forgotten that, but given the kind of stuff that happened in other neighborhoods in the city of New York and other cities in the country; it happened quietly. It happened in a way that you didn't even realize it was happening until you come back a couple of years later and look at all these have Hassidim.

I mean, there always were a couple, but now there's tons. And sitting on the same car on the B train and waiting to get off at 20th Avenue are lots of Chinese people all of a sudden too, who've just come from lower Manhattan where they've done their green grocery shopping and they've got bok choy, etc.. And they're chatting to each other in Chinese. And these guys are speaking Yiddish and coming from the jewelry district and we're all getting off together at 20th Avenue.

It's amazing. It's amazing. It's like the peaceable kingdom there. The lion lying down with the lamb. It's really interesting.

GROSS: Now, you have two kids?

SUAREZ: Yeah.

GROSS: And you choose to live in the city. What keeps you in the city?

SUAREZ: I can't live any other way. I mean, I thrive on it. And I -- I think there's a grace in being known. And it's a simple thing. It's an unremarkable thing. It's almost out there on the border of banal. Just being able to walk down your street and be acknowledged by the guy on the corner who knows you, you know him.

I walk my kids to school in the morning. I drop them off at the front door, they say goodbye. I run, accidentally, into other parents, say hello. Trade bits of neighborhood intelligence. Walk to the corner, there's my subway station. Go underground, 15 minutes I'm at work.

There's something humanizing. There's something comforting about the simple act of being in a place where you know people and people know you.

GROSS: Well, Ray Suarez, congratulations on the book. And thank you so much for talking with us.

SUAREZ: Great to see you, Terry.

GROSS: Ray Suarez is the host of NPR's "Talk of the Nation." His new book is called "The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration."

I'm Terry Gross.

This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.

TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Washington, D.C.
Guest: Ray Suarez
High: The host of NPR's "Talk of the Nation," Ray Suarez. He's the author of the new book, "The Old Neighborhood: What We Lost in the Great Suburban Migration, 1966-1999."
Spec: Cities; Housing; Lifestyle; Culture; Media; Ray Suarez

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright 1999 WHYY, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by FDCH, Inc. under license from WHYY, Inc. Formatting copyright 1999 FDCH, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to WHYY, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission.
End-Story: NPR's Ray Suarez Dicusses Suburban Migration
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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