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Exclusive Interview: Molly Ringwald Sings!

NorCal native and 1980s movie icon visits Livermore's Bankead Theater on February 12 for an evening of music with her jazz band

Molly Ringwald was a singer long before she became one of the most visible young actors of the 1980s, starring in now-classic teen films Sixteen Candles, The Breakfast Club, and Pretty in Pink. The Northern California native grew up in Sacramento, and was singing along to her father’s piano at age four.

Now 46, Ringwald has dozens of film and TV credits on her resume, and is an accomplished author (check out her 2012 young adult novel, When It Happens to You, it's a stunner.) She’s also returned to her roots as a jazz singer—her debut album on Concord Records, Except Sometimes, is a stroll through the Great American Songbook, and earned raves from music critics following its 2013 release.

Ringwald will perform songs from the record at Livermore’s beautiful Bankhead Theater on February 12. (Movie fans will want to make sure to check out our free screening of The Breakfast Club on March 12 at the Orinda Theatre). I spoke with Ringwald on the phone earlier this week.

PC: Molly, so nice to meet you. Can you tell us a bit about growing up in Northern California, and how music was a part of your childhood?
MR: Sure, I was born in Roseville and grew up in Sacramento until I was about 10. My father, Bob, was a traditional jazz musician and he was instrumental in starting the Sacramento Traditional Jazz Festival—organizing and performing this great festival. That’s a great festival, which still exists, I have fond memories of going to it in Old Sacramento. It always very festive and there was music everywhere. In fact, I was one of the first guest stars of that festival, when I was four years old.

We listened to jazz, all the time, in the house. All my early musical influences were jazz. Looking back it was an incredible experience to have that kind of musical education at a young age.

PC: The Concord Jazz Festival was a big deal around that time as well. Did you take any trips to the East Bay area to perform?
MR: Once in awhile, we would come through there for different festivals. And I also got my start in musical theater. My first professional play was Annie, at the Curran Theatre.

PC: Did you see the new Annie movie?
MR: I didn’t. My daughter saw it, but I ... just could not do it. (Laughs)

PC: Your album compares these treasures from the Great American Songbook. After your early childhood, were these songs always in your mind, even during the 1980s, when popular music had a much different texture?
MR: Oh, I should clarify that when I say my dad is a musical purist, he’s like into real Dixieland jazz: Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, that kind of stuff. I have always loved that music, but I also immediately liked more modern jazz. The stuff on my album, particular the instrumentation, is certainly a more modern approach.

As for the 1980s, I have always loved all different kinds of music. When I was younger and now. Even though I sing jazz I love alternative, chamber, pop, classical, jazz. I just love music and its great to explore different kids of music.

PC: You have had artistic success on various levels: acting in film and TV, writing books, recording your songs. Now you’re performing jazz concerts in nightclubs and theaters. How rewarding is the experience connecting with a live audience during your concerts?
MR: Any kind of live performing is certainly much more immediate and gratifying and energizing in a special way. I love my band, I love the way that they play, but I also just like hanging out with them.

It is the most joyful thing that I play music with them. It is a lot more fun than anything I do. Writing is a hard, it is solitary and fill of angst. When the book comes out its fun. I’m very proud of what I have written—and writing uses different parts of my brain than music. So, one is not better than another, and they all benefit one another.

PC: Concord Records, which was created out of the Concord Jazz Festival, also has a great connection to this area. How does it feel to share a label with the kind of titans of jazz, such as Tony Bennett and Rosemary Clooney and Dave Brubeck?
MR: It is very flattering, for sure. Nowadays, you don’t really need a label. The music business as everyone knows, is really changing. But I wanted to go to a traditional label for my first album, and I was really excited when Concord chose to release my album. Their backlist in incredible, those artists you mentioned. And Stan Getz and Mel Torme and so many others. I’m honored.

We actually recorded that album in 2009 and 2010 independently. We finished it, and then I did not do anything with it because I got very focused on the books that I was writing. Once the books came out, it was time to do something with the album, and it was very exciting to put it out.

PC: The only song on the record that isn’t from the Great American Songbook is your jazz version of the Simple Minds song, "Don't You (Forget About Me)" (which was featured prominently in The Breakfast Club). Can you talk about why you decided to reinterpret that song?
MR: Mostly because while we were recording John Hughes passed away. He was on my mind quite a bit at that time. During a rehearsal, and I asked, ‘Do you think there is any way we can do a jazz version of this?’

It sort of organically came about. I put it on as a tribute to John and as sort of a bridge from what people know me for.

PC: Well, it works. It’s always exciting when an artists can take a totally new, and surprising take on a song that’s known so well, like Nina Simone’s version of “Here Comes The Sun.”
MR: I agree. That Nina Simone version is great, and so is the Blossom Dearie version of “Surrey With a Fringe on Top” from Oklahoma! Totally surprising.

This is where I was about to tell Molly that we would play her album before the free screening of The Breakfast Club at the Orinda Theatre on March 12. Instead, the interview ended with her Blossom Dearie shout-out, because her next interview. Anyway, we are showing it for free on March 12 at 7 p.m. And Molly Ringwald and band will perform at the Bankhead Theater in Livermore on February 12. Tickets are available here.