In the midst of a recent performance before a packed house at the Los Angeles club Rockwell celebrating the release of her debut jazz album Except Sometimes, Molly Ringwald addressed the issue on everyone’s mind: “I bet you’re wondering what I’ve been up to since making those John Hughes movies in the 80s.” Those three films—“Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty In Pink”—and her inclusion in “The Brat Pack” made her a cultural icon of the era, put her on the cover of Time Magazine and later led to VH1 listing her #1 on their list of Greatest Teen Stars.
What has she been up to since the late 80s? Plenty! In the early 90s, Ringwald—the daughter of notable jazz pianist Bob Ringwald--moved to Paris where she acted in foreign films, but she returned to the U.S. on occasion to star in high profile TV projects, including Stephen King’s “The Stand.” She later headed to New York City, where he starred in numerous plays (“How I Learned To Drive,” “Enchanted April”) and Broadway musicals (“Cabaret,” “Tick, Tick…BOOM!”). She also appeared in the London production of “When Harry Met Sally” and starred in the national tour of the revival of “Sweet Charity.”
The mother of a nine year old daughter and three year old twins, Ringwald has been a regular playing a mom on ABC Family’s “The Secret Life of the American Teenager” on ABC Family since 2008, and is also on the road promoting her new novel, the national bestseller “When It Happens To You.” Except Sometimes recently debuted in the Top 10 of Billboard’s Jazz Albums chart.
JazzMonthly: You’ve had quite an interesting creative journey. Did you ever think of doing a jazz album when you were younger? Why was now the best time to do it?
MR: I thought about it but really felt I had to make a specific decision when I chose to pursue acting. I think back in the Golden Age of Hollywood, performers were expected to do it all—sing, dance, act and other things—but when I was making movies in the 80s there was no place for a musical career as well. Still, I kept singing and remained interested in someday making music. In my late 20s and early 30s, I started thinking about putting a jazz group together. Since then, I’ve focused more on theatre and writing and having children, but everything came together when I met Peter Smith, a great actor and musician who became my producer. Until him, I hadn’t met anyone I felt would be a perfect collaborator. Peter is a pianist, musical director and great arranger. He’s the only person besides my father who intuitively knows my voice and phrasing, and that’s really difficult to find.
JM: Tell me about growing up with your dad, Bob Ringwald. Was jazz your first musical love? Who were your favorites? I read that you recorded a Dixieland album with his band when you were five!
MR: Actually, I was six! I had been singing with my dad quite a bit and his group wanted to have a recording of it so they did it for free and made an investment in me. The songs ranged from classic Dixieland to one by Helen Kane, who was the influence behind the Betty Boop character. There was always jazz being played in the house, we were always going to festivals and I remember singing and performing all the time with him. I would come home from school to rehearse and it was the way dad and I bonded. I remember adoring Bessie Smith at first and as I got older veering more towards the Great American Songbook. Then I fell in love with Ella Fitzgerald and everything she recorded, and Blossom Dearie. I mention them in my acknowledgements on Except Sometimes.
JM: You’ve been acting since you were very young and became a film icon in your teens. During all of that, where was jazz for you? Did you ever think it might be possible to parlay your fame into a recording career earlier?
MR: I never stopped listening to jazz and never stopped singing it, though obviously it was not at the forefront in my career. Singing with my dad was always wonderful, but I knew that I had to form my own group someday to really own it. I was always listening to amazing singers, picking up inspiration from them. It’s the same way I have been inspired become a published author, by reading great books from amazing writers.
JM: When people hear your name, the first thing they think about are the John Hughes films. What are the challenges in segueing from that perception to the fact that you are an adult working actress, you’ve been on Broadway and toured with musical shows, and are now a jazz singer with a popular debut album?
MR: All I can do is focus on my creative output. I can’t control what people think or how they perceive me. All you can do as an artist is create the bet art you can and hope it speaks to people. I couldn’t have asked for a better reception to Except Sometimes, and I’m thrilled that it has charted on the iTunes jazz chart and also now on Billboard. Of course, my status as a movie actress certainly helped pique the interest of many who otherwise might not listen to jazz, so it’s kind of win-win.
JM: As a jazz singer, what do you feel you bring to these songs that is unique musically and emotionally?
MR: It’s really almost impossible to talk about myself in this context. But what I bring is joy. I love to sing and especially to sing this music. When I’m singing, I don’t really think about anything else but the joy of what I’m doing with these great musicians. What I bring to the genre is probably going to be interpreted differently depending who is listening. Some talk about the music and are surprised because they didn’t know I could sing. So that’s fun. Others have different reactions. What I love most is that when I talk to people in the audience, older people are thanking me for singing songs that remind them of their childhoods. Those who grew up on my movies will say, “You are my childhood.” So it’s very much a crossover thing, and that’s lovely. I can’t think of too many performers who have that appeal to everyone from grandparents to 12 year olds!