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Molly Ringwald, The Breakfast Club and all that jazz

Andrea Warner

If you were raised on a steady diet of repeat viewings of The Breakfast Club, Sixteen Candles or Pretty in Pink, Molly Ringwald was either your teenage crush, your imaginary best friend or a fellow redhead who upped your self-esteem.

But the former teen actress has come a long way from being John Hughes’s “it girl,” adding a host of hyphenates to her career in the arts. She’s also a bestselling author (When It Happens To You), storyteller and, with the recent release of her debut album, Except Sometimes, a jazz singer. But before naysayers scoff about another famous person crossing the streams, know that this is actually Ringwald coming full circle, returning to the very first time she ventured into the spotlight: singing as a little girl with her father’s jazz band.

Ringwald spoke with CBC Music about her new record, choosing obscure songs over standards and The Breakfast Club cover you never saw coming.

So many people are really scared of putting out records right now. Why did this feel like the right time for you?

I feel like everything I’ve done in life, for better or for worse, has happened very organically. It’s been a matter of one thing has led to another to another. I had been wanting to put a jazz group together for years and it just didn’t happen. Then when [band leader/musical director] Peter Smith and I met, there was this synchronicity and I felt good working with him. I felt like I could grow. We put the band together and started to play and it just seemed like I wanted to have some kind of record of the time. I didn’t really know what I was going to do and then that record just became the record [laughs]. The hardest part of it was finding the money to actually make the record, because at that point I didn’t know if anybody would want to get behind it or if I would have to release it independently and I don’t know anything about releasing records.

I would imagine most people assume, "Oh, Molly Ringwald wants to make something? Let’s give her money." So money doesn’t just fall from the sky to fund your projects?

[Laughs] You know, I guess I could have gone that route, but considering that I hadn’t made anything yet, I didn’t want another person or a company or entity to tell me what I was. I wanted to figure that out on my own.

Were you reticent to record a jazz version of such an iconic song from your past [“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from The Breakfast Club]?

I wasn’t reticent so much. When I recorded the song it was really soon after [John Hughes] died and he was in my mind a lot. I didn’t even know if it was possible really. I was just in rehearsal one day with Peter and said I was thinking about the song and wondering if there was any way we could do a jazz version of it. So we started playing through it and he started putting these interesting chords in there and then I started to look at the lyrics — and I can’t even say I ever paid any attention to them, it was so much about the sound of it, you know?

And I loved the song. I remember being so excited when they wrote that song and it became a part of the movie. But I knew I didn’t want it to be the title track and I knew I didn’t want to name the album after that song. That was really important to me, because it really is not very representative of what I do, but it’s a nice addition. Kind of a way to integrate who I was with who I am. And I’ve always liked covers that sound very different than the original.

How has your relationship to music changed since you were a kid?

I grew up with pretty much exclusively jazz music, and pretty much traditional jazz because of my dad. Which I think gave me a really great background in where jazz comes from, but like anything else, jazz has evolved a lot. I listen to everything from traditional jazz — I feel I know a lot more about traditional jazz than most of the members of my jazz band [laughs]. With the exception of, possibly, Clayton Cameron, who has done a lot of studying and gives TED Talks about the origins of rhythm.

Did you go through a period of rebellion against jazz when you were younger, just wanting to differentiate yourself from your dad and what he was into?

I think so. I still played with him and sung with him, but it wasn’t like, my main music for a little while. I kind of kept it a secret. It was my secret love [laughs]. I didn’t really stop listening to it, but I certainly wasn’t pursuing it as a career, I didn’t even think that was possible. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s and I think Harry Connick Jr. came out and I was like, "Wow, OK, he did it!" Then Diana Krall and Norah Jones and all these other people ... if I hadn’t done anything else, I might have gone that route.

You lived abroad and are fluent in French. Are we going to see some French jazz songs down the road if you make another record?

Yeah, there were 13 songs originally, when I submitted the album, and it was cut down to 10. One of them was French and they said they were going to put it on a bonus track in America and France. Hopefully it will end up somewhere as a bonus track [laughs]. If not, definitely on the next album.

I can totally see a beautiful French-language album in your future.

That’s one of the things I’ve been batting around, trying to figure out what my next album is going to be, and one of the ideas is to do it entirely in French. Which will be a little bit difficult, since my collaborator/musical director/arranger doesn’t speak French, but I might need to bring somebody who does. It is different when you record in French, because you can’t do everything phonetically — and I speak French! ... And, also to find songs — one of the things I like about this album is that they are standards, but they aren’t standards you haven’t heard as much. I tried to go for ones you haven’t — you know what I mean? [Laughs] Every standards album has “Embraceable You” and “My Funny Valentine,” “Someone to Watch Over Me” and “I Have a Crush On You.” All these great songs that I know and I’ve learned over the years, but I just thought, you know, there’s probably 50 of those recorded as opposed to “Ballad of Sad Young Men,” which I can only think of maybe three people. I thought it was more interesting to maybe pick songs that were a little more obscure. I would want to do that in the French language, too.

Hang out with me on Twitter: @_AndreaWarner

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