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Can Denzel Washington Play Trumpet

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Danielle Fletcher
• Thursday, 21 January, 2021
• 7 min read

Mo' Better Blues is a 1990 American musicalcomedydrama film starring Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, and Spike Lee, who also directed. The film focuses on themes of friendship, loyalty, honesty, cause-and-effect, and ultimately salvation.

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It features the music of the Branford Marshals quartet and Terence Blanchard on trumpet, who also plays for the Bleak Gilliam character. The film was released five months after the death of Robin Harris and is dedicated to his memory, and is his penultimate acting role.

A group of four boys walk up to Bleak Gilliam's brownstone and ask him to play baseball with them. His father becomes concerned that Bleak will grow up to be a sissy, and a family argument ensues.

Giant, the band’s manager, advises Bleak to stop allowing his saxophone player Shadow Henderson to grandstand with long solos. He meets Bleak at the club with the rest of the band, except for the pianist, Left-hand Lacey, who arrives late with his French girlfriend and is scolded by Giant.

This leads to the next scene where Bleak is in bed with Clarke, and she asks him to let her sing a number at the club with his band. Bleak goes to the club owners to ask for more money, which they refuse, reminding him that it was Giant who locked him into the current deal.

Bleak attempts to work it out with each girl, but they are both upset with him, and though he sleeps with them each again, they leave him (after he calls each of them by the other's name). Giant asks the other band members for money, and Left loans him five hundred dollars.

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Bleak misses both his girlfriends and leaves messages for each, but Clarke has begun a new relationship with Shadow. The loan sharks find Giant at the club, take him outside, and beat him while Bleak plays.

Additionally, one loan shark takes Bleak's own trumpet and smacks him across the face with it. This permanently injures his lip, making him unable to continue playing trumpet.

Months later, Bleak reunites with Giant, who has gotten a job as a doorman and stopped gambling. However, unlike in the opening scene, Bleak relents and allows his son go play with friends.

Lee argues that even if the Flat bush brothers are stereotyped figures, their “10 minutes of screen time” is insignificant when compared to “100 years of Hollywood cinema... a slew of really racist, anti-Semitic filmmakers”. According to Lee, his status as a successful African-American artist has led to hostility and unfair treatment: “Don't hold me to a higher moral standard than the rest of my filmmaking colleagues... Now that young black filmmakers have arisen in the film industry, all of a sudden stereotypes are a big issue...

Ultimately, however, Lee refused to apologize for his portrayal of the Flat bush brothers: “I stand behind all my work, including my characters, Moe and Josh Flat bush... if critics are telling me that to avoid charges of anti-Semitism, all Jewish characters I write have to be model citizens, and not one can be a villain, cheat or a crook, and that no Jewish people have ever exploited black artists in the history of the entertainment industry, that's unrealistic and unfair.” In Spike Lee’s “Mo’ Better Blues,” that rare movie about jazz in which actors playing musicians actually act and talk like them, Denzel Washington gives what may be the most believable on-screen impression yet of a soloist in full flight.

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When Blanchard met Washington, he was pleased to learn that the actor at least had some music background; he had played piano in high school and could still plunk out a few tunes. Blanchard says he gave Washington some hand and finger exercises and set him up with some professional instructors.

As it turned out, Washington did much more than go through the fingering motions; he began to understand the complex art of creating melodic lines on the horn, and the more he practiced, the more he gathered strength and conviction. When he was playing the trumpet for the camera, he would hesitate whenever he realized he’d made a musical mistake and the actual soundtrack recording would get ahead of him.

Blanchard says he got Washington to overcome his self-consciousness by carrying a Walkman around and listening to the music until he got to the point where he could sing it all without even thinking about it. A group of four boys walk up to Bleak Gilliam's brownstone and ask him to play baseball with them.

His father becomes concerned that Bleak will grow up to be a sissy, and a family argument ensues. Giant, the band’s manager, advises Bleak to stop allowing his saxophone player Shadow Henderson to grandstand with long solos.

He meets Bleak at the club with the rest of the band, except for the pianist, Left-hand Lacey, who arrives late with his French girlfriend and is scolded by Giant. This leads to the next scene where Bleak is in bed with Clarke, and she asks him to let her sing a number at the club with his band.

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Bleak goes to the club owners to ask for more money, which they refuse, reminding him that it was Giant who locked him into the current deal. Bleak attempts to work it out with each girl, but they are both upset with him, and though he sleeps with them each again, they leave him (after he calls each of them by the other's name).

Giant promises to do so, and then asks Bleak for a loan to pay his gambling debts. Bleak declines, and later Giant is apprehended by two loan sharks who demand payment.

Giant asks the other band members for money, and Left loans him five hundred dollars. When loan sharks stake out Giant's home, he goes to Bleak for a place to stay.

Bleak misses both his girlfriends and leaves messages for each, but Clarke has begun a new relationship with Shadow. Additionally, one loan shark takes Bleak's own trumpet and smacks him across the face with it.

This permanently injures his lip, making him unable to continue playing the trumpet. Months later, Bleak reunites with Giant, who has gotten a job as a doorman and stopped gambling.

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In the final scene, Miles is ten years old and wants to go outside to play with his friends. However, unlike in the opening scene, Bleak relents and allows his son go play with friends.

Edit Cast overview, first billed only: Denzel Washington ... Bleak Gilliam Spike Lee ... Shadow Henderson (Sax) Giancarlo Esposito ... Left-hand Lacey (Piano) Robin Harris ... Butter bean Jones Join Lee ... Indigo Downs Bill Nun ... Bottom Hammer (Bass) John Torture ... Moe Flat bush Dick Anthony Williams ... Big Stop Williams Lynda Williams ... Clarke Bettencourt Nicholas Torture ... Josh Flat bush Jeff 'Main' Watts ...

Rhythm Jones (Drums) Samuel L. Jackson ... Padlock Leonard L. Thomas ... Rod Charlie Murphy ... Eggs (as Charles Q. Murphy) View production, box office, & company info. Edit Opens with Bleak as a child learning to play the trumpet, his friends want him to come out and play, but mother insists he finish his lessons.

The story of Bleak's and Shadow's friendly rivalry on stage which spills into their professional relationship and threatens to tear apart the quartet. Edit Goofs During the performance of Bleak's “Pop Top Urban 40 Funk Love ... Song”, Bleak's headgear changes from hat to baseball cap.

Quotes Bleak : I may have been born yesterday, but I stayed up all night. Crazy Credits Flavor Slave of the rap group Public Enemy spells out the letters in “Universal” as the studio logo appears on the screen.

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Soundtracks Mo'Better Blues Written and performed by Branford Marshals Quartet and Terence Blanchard more » However, most of the blues musicians you will see will sing, harmonica, piano, guitar, saxophone, sometimes trumpet and other brass instruments.

Clarinet, saxophone, trumpet, trombone, piano, guitar, bass, drum set, vocalist, harmonica, dobro Wesley Snipes character, Shadow, purchases a stack of John Coltrane CD's with an American Express card.

In 1989, Snipes had another encounter with the American Express credit card, in the movie Major League (1989). Spike Lee's “Mo' Better Blues” is about a jazz man, but it's not really about jazz -- it's about work, about being so wrapped up in your career that you don't have space for relationships, and you can 't see where you're headed.

The movie gives us some insights into those possibilities in a prologue that shows Bleak as a young boy, growing up on a middle-class Brooklyn street, being forced by his mother to practice his trumpet while the neighborhood kids stand on the sidewalk and taunt him because he can 't come out and play softball. There are two women in his life: Clarke Bettencourt (Lynda Williams), as sleek as her name, a seductive songstress; and Indigo Downs (Join Lee), sometimes as blue as her name, less glamorous but steadier and more emotionally healthy.

The band is on the brink of breaking out big, but needs better leadership than it gets from Bleak and his childhood friend and manager, Giant (Spike Lee). Giant is a compulsive gambler who is hopelessly incompetent to guide anyone's career, but through some sort of perverse logic Bleak is loyal to him instead of to the friends who would really help him.

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The middle sections of the movie take place in a world of jazz clubs and dressing rooms, stage door entrances, bars, coffee shops and apartments -- urban New York at night. There is a lot of music in the film, provided both by Bill Lee's score and by the Bleak group, which has been dubbed by the Branford Marshals Quartet.

The music is sensuous big-city jazz from around midnight, swirling through cigarette smoke and perfume and the musty smell of a saloon, and it's good to listen to. On stage, Washington looks at home with his horn, and Wesley Snipes is also strong as Shadow, and saxophone player who likes to hog the solos.

Backstage in the dressing room, in scenes that feel improvised, the musicians argue about the band, its leadership, its direction, and even the romantic preferences of its members. And there's a suggestion of a theme from School Daze, ” in which Lee examined subtle value systems within the black community, based on the relative lightness of skin tone: Clarke has “whiter” features than Indigo, and that may go into Bleak's emotional quandary, too.

Washington has been seen mostly in heavy dramatic roles (“ Glory, ” Cry Freedom “), and here, as in The Mighty Quinn, ” shows that he is gifted at comedy and romance. Join Lee, in her most important role, isn't supposed to be as flashy but succeeds in the challenge of drawing our sympathy away from the sexpot and toward the more substantial woman.

And I liked Spike Lee's acting, too: He has a kind of off-center, driving energy that makes you into an accomplice even when he's marching straight for trouble.

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