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Music

The moment Jamie Foxx won over Ray Charles

Jamie Foxx was born to play Ray Charles. Yes, he was born to play Ray Charles. And he was deservedly commended for his performance as the pianist, bringing great humanity and integrity to a role that could have been underserved by a caricature performance. But there’s nothing that could be described as docile by the actor himself, instead he brings a level of understanding and respect for the musician he is set to emulate.

But the hardest audition was his audition in front of Charles himself, as he needed to show his abilities as both an actor and a musician. What’s obvious from the get-go is that Charles was more than happy to let Foxx perform alongside him, and in the available footage, it is clear that the two men were more than happy to jam together. And from the available footage, it transpires that the two men were clearly playing in synch, sparking off one another.

“It was like waiting in a doctor’s office,” Foxx recalled. “Do I have it, or do I not have it? Ray walks in and says ‘You know what, man, if you can play the blues, baby, you can do anything. Don’t worry about playing me.’ So he gets on one piano, I get on the other, and we start playing the blues back and forth.” It clearly helped that Foxx is also a musician by trade and vocation, which likely helped him to win over the trust of one Charles. And from the duelling pianos came the sound of a man who was guided by a propensity to perform barrelling piano solos, as well as steal the hearts of all around them.

Foxx’s natural abilities to play music made him stand out from the crowd, and it might explain why he felt a certain kinship with his subject, happily realising the properties of his past work. Foxx also allowed some of his own personality to shine through the proceedings which explains why it’s the performance of his life. It’s certainly a more impassioned performance and well-rounded portrait than the more casual performances seen in either Django Unchained or Baby Driver.

Such is the way of things, Foxx delivered a portrait that was based almost entirely on principal, instinct and truth. And such is the way of his work, he let the performance do the heavy work for the audience, giving them the permission to impart their own level of truth onto the work as it stood. Foxx is brilliant as the pianist and doesn’t just embody the piano player, he is the piano player. And in his effort to become Charles, he captures Charles at his most playful, pensive and passionate.

If you ask me, his work is closer to Charles than Rami Malek‘s is to Freddie Mercury’s, and in his efforts to become something of a more impressive musician, he ultimately wound up becoming the most honest portrait of a piano player yet seen onscreen. It was soul. It was wholesome. It was blues.