NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson remembers how his mother's belief in him made all the difference. [2:59]
Saxophone, I was enamored with it. we were poor, you know. - my mother couldn't afford to get me a saxophone. She had a job as a waitress $6 a week plus tips. And I knew that was out of the question. So I began listening to the radio, waiting for a song that would include a saxophone solo. And my mother saw me doing this and asked me what I was doing. And I told her, you know, I heard the saxophone and I'm waiting to hear some of the saxophone solos. And when I told her, that I was really thinking about becoming a saxophone player, she had a fit. "Oh." She said, "Jazz musicians, they take dope <Laughs>." They're dope fiends. I said "Ma, I'm not interested in dope. I'm interested in the saxophone." But eventually she came around to my way of thinking. And I was thinking if I could get a horn, I could get a secondhand one. One of those old silver-looking saxophone from the pawn shop. Never thinking I could get a brand new saxophone. She wasn't making that kind of money. And I didn't have a father. You know, the father walked off into the sunset earlier. So it was just my mother and me. And I remember that day when she left for work, all she had was a little package with her lunch in it. But when she was coming home and she got off the street car, I saw she had something in her hand. When she turned and crossed the street, I saw that it was elongated and my heart almost jumped out of my body. I said "This can't be a saxophone. It just can't be." And when she got close enough for me to hear her voice, she leaned forward slightly and said, "I have something for you baby." I almost died. She came in the house, put the saxophone down on the counter and opened it. It was a brand new Martin's tenor saxophone. She had bought it at Wurlitzer's [ph?] downtown, you know, where you pay a dollar down and a dollar all week for the rest of your life <Laughs>.
Jo Reed: You know what strikes me so much about that story Benny, is the faith your mother had in you when you didn't even know how to play the saxophone and to get a new one for you when it meant sacrificing so much.
Benny Golson: Oh yeah, oh yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, she really did believe in me. I'll tell you something happened once and it's bizarre. During that time as years went by, you know, I found out that guys used to like to smoke pot, you know. But I stayed away from it. Till this day I've never touched any of that stuff So, I had the family car one night and these guys were all getting high, smoking the pot. But the next day, I picked her up in the car from work, you know. And she went to settle herself in the seat and she put her hands behind her and her hands slipped between the seat and she felt this thing and she pulled it up. And it was a half-smoked joint of marijuana <Laughs>. And of course she said, "Oh this is dope <Laughs>." I said, "Oh Lord, this woman is not going to believe me when I tell her that I wasn't doing, you know, everybody was doing it except me Mom." And I told her that and she believed it. Years later, I just happened to ask her, "Why did you believe me when I told you that I wasn't smoking that pot the night before?" She said, "Because I know you." She had faith in me, yeah. And I never let her down.