Molly Ringwald has moved from “The Breakfast Club” to the jazz club.
The redheaded actress who describes herself as “your former teen-age crush” in her Twitter bio will always live in her generation’s memories for portraying the angst of high-school life as an everyday girl, teen princess and outsider in her iconic 1980s films “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club,” and “Pretty in Pink” with writer-director John Hughes.
Now the 45-year-old has taken on a new role as a jazz singer with the recent release of her album “Except Sometimes,” a collection of Great American Songbook and Broadway tunes. She sings about romance from a mature, adult perspective, interpreting such tunes as “I Get Along Without You Very Well” and “The Very Thought of You.”
She also pays tribute to the late Hughes by reclaiming “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” the Simple Minds’ theme to “The Breakfast Club,” turning it into a jazz ballad.
Jazz roots run deep
She believes her acting experience has helped enhance her jazz singing.
“As an actor you pay attention to the words and you get into character,” she said. “I tend to do this with music as well. I really get into the lyric.”
She will be performing limited engagements at jazz clubs across the country, allowing enough breaks to spend time at home with her three children and husband, writer-editor Panio Gianopoulos.
Her jazz roots run deep. Her father, blind pianist Bob Ringwald, plays traditional Dixieland jazz. She has an encyclopedic knowledge of female jazz singers — reeling off the names of those who most influenced her: Bessie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Anita O’Day, Blossom Dearie and Susannah McCorkle.
Ringwald considers jazz her “musical equivalent of comfort food.” Her parents encouraged her to pursue interests other than acting — singing, writing, reading and traveling — which kept her engaged in a world outside Hollywood and its club scene, avoiding the pitfalls that ensnared some of her teen co-stars.
“I hear jazz and it just feels good because it reminds me of my childhood,” said Ringwald, speaking by telephone from her home in the Los Angeles area. “I started singing with my dad when I was 3 years old and really developed a close relationship with him through music that endures to this day.”
She would sit in with her father’s Sacramento-based Fulton Street Jazz Band singing Fats Waller and Bessie Smith songs. She recorded her first jazz album, “I Wanna Be Loved By You, Molly Sings” with her father’s band at age 6.
Ringwald originally wanted to be a singer, making her professional debut at age 10 in a West Coast production of “Annie.” But after landing her first TV and film roles, she decided to focus on acting — a choice she says she wouldn’t have to make as a teen actor today given the popularity of “Glee” and “High School Musical.”
Never stopped singing
“When I started acting, it didn’t seem that there were any actors that were also singing,” she said. “I really felt to be taken seriously as an actress, I would have to just give up the idea of having a musical career.”
But she never stopped singing, mostly performing with her father’s band. She briefly sang the standard “Embraceable You” in the teen pregnancy film “For Keeps.”
After spending much of the 1990s in Paris, Ringwald relocated to New York to do theater, including the lead roles in revivals of the musicals “Cabaret” and “Sweet Charity.”
In 2005, while starring in the off-Broadway comedy “Modern Orthodox,” she got inspired to sing jazz when she met her “perfect collaborator” at a cast party.
Peter Smith, an understudy, had just begun playing jazz tunes on the piano when Ringwald suddenly started singing along with him.
“I grew up like everyone else watching her in movies and just thought that the only kind of music she’s going to know is like The Smiths and The Cure, all that ’80s music,” Smith said. “But she really knew how to sing jazz.”
Smith was impressed by the quality and tone of her voice, and most of all by her “tasteful artistic choices as a singer.” He invited her to sit in at his jazz club gigs before he left for Los Angeles.
Ringwald reunited with Smith when she moved to Los Angeles in 2008 to join the cast of the TV show “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” playing the mother of a pregnant teenager.
She eventually felt confident enough to record an album in 2010 with Smith writing the arrangements. They produced it independently because she wanted artistic control, and it was later picked up by Concord.
Ringwald felt the time was right because the music that she always enjoyed singing had become more popular thanks to singers such as Diana Krall, Jane Monheit and Norah Jones.
Family and writing
The album’s release was delayed because Ringwald had her hands full raising her twins (now 31⁄2 years old) and pursuing a literary career. In 2010, she published “Getting the Pretty Back,” which offered personal anecdotes and advice, and her first novel “When It Happens to You” came out last year.
She is already looking ahead to recording another jazz album and is developing her own TV show.
“I feel that I have grown as a person and as an artist and am able to take on more things at once,” she said. “Being a mother certainly has aided my ability to multitask.”