Molly Ringwald: Jazzing Up the Great American Songbook
By David DeRocco
What does a young actress ranked #1 on VH1’s “100 Greatest Teen Stars” do when facing the challenges of becoming an adult in the world of entertainment? When you’re the iconic Molly Ringwald, you become a sultry jazz singer!
She may be earning rave reviews as a singer and author now, but there was a time when the precocious and talented Molly was a teen acting sensation, first on the small screen in the NBC sitcom The Facts of Life, then in her big screen debut in 1982’s The Tempest (for which she earned a Golden Globe nomination as New Star of the Year.) It was her scene-stealing roles in a string of John Hughes movies – including Sixteen Candles (1984), The Breakfast Club (1985) and Pretty In Pink (1986) -- that secured her status as the most popular American red-head since Lucille Ball.
The evolution of Ringwald the jazz singer, however, began long before she became a teen icon. Growing up with an appreciation for jazz fostered by her jazz-pianist father Bob, Ringwald started singing at age three and maintained her passion for music all through her acting career. With the release of her 2013 jazz debut Except Sometimes, Ringwald proved to the world she had as much talent in front of a mic as she does in front of a camera.
In anticipation of her April 16th performance at FirstOntario Performing Arts Centre, Ringwald took time to chat with GoBeWeekly.com about her biggest passion, the problem with making sequels, and her future projects.
GO/BE: You’re a triple threat entertainer, an actress, a writer and singer. If you had to choose a singular art form to make your living, which of those would you choose and why?
MOLLY: I like to do all of these things and I feel like they all speak to each other in some way. There are times in my life where I focus on one part, for instance, when I made Except Sometimes. I was very focused on playing and performing with my band, but at the same time I was on a TV show. Right now I'm deep in the writing process hoping to direct my first film. Fortunately I don't really feel that I have to choose as I did when I was younger. It is a great advantage to be able to have so many ways to express my art, and hopefully nice for everyone else!
GO/BE: You developed your love for music, jazz and cabaret in particular, at such a young age; what songs from those formative years do you remember hearing and being most inspired by?
MOLLY: I really loved Bessie Smith as a child and her songs were the ones I sang most with my dad's more traditional jazz band, although some the lyrics had to be modified because of my age! Later on I developed my adoration of Ella and Bille, Sarah, Blossom, et al. I was incredibly inspired by Ella's Live in Roma album, particularly her virtuosic rendition of "How High the Moon." I loved Billie's emotion and Blossom's simplicity. I also loved Annie Ross's style and ability to swing.
GO/BE: You once remarked “it is not a good idea to do remakes of great classic films” in reference to a remake of 16 Candles. Songs from the “great American songbook” get reinterpreted all time. Do you subscribe to Mick Jagger’s theory that “it’s the singer not the song” that attracts people to music and gives them an appreciation for a particular song?
MOLLY: I think that a great song allows for different interpretations, like a great recipe. I do subscribe to the belief that a singer needs to find a new way in. I'm not very interested by covers that sound too much like the original. I like to hear songs I love completely re-imagined by an artist. It's always exciting when you hear a lyric or a word that you've never heard before or it makes you think of the story of the song in a completely different way. Many times this can be achieved by changing the chords, tempo, and then of course the singer's own emotional interpretation...
GO/BE: Do you choose songs to sing based on an emotional connection to them or simply because you appreciate the lyric or melody?
MOLLY: I think all three, but generally the lyric is a bit more important to me. I am very susceptible to melody and certain chord progressions. But I think it's the way they all work together.
GO/BE: Who is your favourite contemporary female jazz singer. And if you could model your singing career after one artist, who would it be?
MILLY: I admire Jane Monheit for her incredible instrument. I love Sara Gazarek, Diana Patton..Tierney Sutton. Joey Arias is a great singer and dynamic performer. I love Rufus Wainright's voice and his songwriting ability. But I don't want to model by career off of anyone else. I just want to be me!
GO/BE: What does the future hold for you in terms of recording. Will there be more albums? Do you intend to make this a greater focus in your career?
MOLLY: Still mixing my "Live at Birdland". In fact, pretty much done. Just have to finish the cover art.
GO/BE: What can audiences expect when they come to see you live in St. Catharines. How big is your band. Do you focus on jazz or tap into your rich history of music influences to round out your set?
MOLLY: My band is a trio : piano, bass, drums. It is mostly jazz focused , but a few more contemporary genres in there with a jazz focus. A little Bossa. It's always a good time. My musicians are incredible and we have a great time which I think is always infectious to an audience.