Life is Full of Interesting Surprises: A Brief Interview with Molly Ringwald

Photo by Hussein Katz

Molly Ringwald: actor, author… jazz singer! Since the release of her Concord Records debut jazz album, “Except Sometimes,” in April 2013, Ringwald and her band have performed over 200 concerts around the world. The crowd-pleasing concert program, “An Evening with Molly Ringwald,” prompted The New York Times to note, “the spin she brings to the American Songbook is thoroughly contemporary… the same brashness and zaniness that Madonna breathed into pop.” An actress of stage and screen, Ringwald earned a Golden Globe nomination at age thirteen, and went on to star in numerous films, including the iconic John Hughes hits, “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” and “Pretty in Pink.” On stage, Ringwald starred in Broadway productions of the Pulitzer Prize winning “How I Learned to Drive,” the revival of “Cabaret,” the Tony-nominated “Enchanted April,” and the West End production of “When Harry Met Sally.”

The band for her Birdland debut includes Peter Smith (piano & musical director) Trevor Ware (bass) Tony Jefferson (drums) Allen Mesquida (alto sax) and Mitchell Long (guitar).

Shows are Tuesday & Wednesday March 1–2 @ 8pm; Thursday through Saturday, March 3–5 @ 8:30 & 11pm. Tix here.

BL: You seem to have found success, beyond acting, in writing and singing, but one just doesn’t wake up and decide to do these things at such a high level. How long have you been nurturing these other artistic pursuits?

MR: Music was actually the first thing I did. I was singing jazz practically before I could talk. No kidding. My father (Bob Ringwald) is a traditional jazz musician. He started out as a more “modern” bebop musician in the 50s, but by the time I came along he’d found his happy place in trad jazz.

BL: What music did you listen to growing up?

MR: I was raised listening to all of the greats — Louis (Armstrong), Ella (Fitzgerald), Bix (Beiderbecke), Art Tatum, Bessie Smith, etc.. It was a phenomenal musical education for a white kid growing up in suburban California in the 70s! Gradually acting took over as my primary focus, but I never gave up my love of music. I just never thought it would be something I did professionally. But life is full of interesting surprises if you are open to it.

BL: Have you heard vocal jazz connoisseurs discuss the dichotomy between Ellas and Billies? That is, a pure controlled voice, faithful to melody and lyrics (Ella Fitzgerald), as opposed to a raw personal voice delivering a more idiosyncratic interpretation (Billie Holiday). If such a continuum exists, where do you place your jazz singing stylistically?

MR: I think that I value both. Of course not everyone is blessed with an instrument as perfect as Ella, so the argument is sort of moot. But I think there is a place for both styles as well as for a Anita O’Day and Blossom Dearie, Sarah Vaughan, Betty Carter, and in terms of who is singing today Jane Monheit, Kate McGarry, Cecile McLorin Salvant. All of these singers are incredible and have the gift of interpreting music in their own way.

BL: Do you draw from your acting?

MR: The most important thing to me is that I feel good, and that I get to the truth of what the song is saying. Of course, I want it to sound nice too, but philosophically this is less important to me. I think this is connected to my acting experience.

BL: How do you prepare for a concert? Is there a particular routine you go through before a show?

MR: I think it depends on the situation, but I usually try to leave enough time to put my makeup on… which forces me to spend time with myself and focus. I’m envious sometimes of my guys who just eat a big dinner and show up onstage a few minutes later ready to perform… but it takes a little more time for me. It’s actually a good thing though because with everything I do in my life, it’s a welcome respite from the chaos just to sit with myself and only think about the music.

BL: Your kids are probably more likely to have seen you on stage or at a book signing, etc.. Do they have any idea what you did in the 80’s and what a huge part of our culture it was? Do you get tired of being known for it? If so, please forgive me for contributing to the tedium.

MR: My elder daughter is hip to it. She’s 12 and her friends are really into all of those films. She texted me the other day to tell me that her friends were having a sing-along in the car of “Don’t you Forget About Me” which I thought was incredibly sweet. For all of the times where it can seem a little…ehem…“tedious” there are moments like that where I feel so great. How many parents can actually say that they are a part of something that their almost teen thinks is “cool?” I’ll take it.

“An Evening with Molly Ringwald”: Tuesday & Wednesday March 1–2 @ 8pm; Thursday through Saturday, March 3–5 @ 8:30 & 11pm. Tix here.

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