|Molly Ringwald at Pizza Express
Photo credit: Cat Munro
(Pizza Express Soho, August 19th 2015. Review by Andrew Cartmel)
It might surprise some to find Molly Ringwald, an iconic young movie star of the 1980s (Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink singing in a London jazz club. But as Ringwald herself has said, “My dad was a jazz pianist and I grew up on a steady diet of Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday and Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines — I met Eubie Blake.” And in pursuit of her career as a jazz vocalist she has enlisted some impressive support. The gifted pianist and arranger Peter Smith is her regular collaborator and musical director. (He has also worked with James Tormé — and Stevie Wonder.) Their English pickup band — some pickup band — consists of double bassist Alec Dankworth, of course a scion of one of the most distinguished British jazz lineages, and drummer Winston Clifford who studied with Tubby Hayes’s drummer Bill Eyden and has played with Art Farmer and Freddie Hubbard.
Sooner or Later by Stephen Sondheim is from the film Dick Tracy where it was sung by nightclub chanteuse Breathless Mahoney, played by Madonna. Molly Ringwald was also up for the part, so there is an element of getting even in Ringwald’s rendition, where she demonstrates that she’s a rhythm singer with a fine sense of swing, and timing that gets the listener’s toe tapping. Her clipped rhythmic precision on Exactly Like You is emphasised by Dankworth’s incisive bass, Smith’s rich and discerning piano and a flurry of elegant brushwork by Clifford.
I Get Along Without You Very Well sees Dankworth and Clifford sitting out. Molly Ringwald extracts the maximum emotion from the lyric and Peter Smith plays elegant heartfelt flourishes, taking this standard at a sedate, pensive, searching pace. Smith specialises in considered, handsome piano figures, measured and richly melodic. The Great American Song Book predominates throughout the evening. On They Say it’s Spring by Marty Clark and Bob Haymes, Ringwald’s acting experience is evident both her driving diction and her knack for getting the full feeling and value from the words. Her musicians support her with great, jaunty unison playing, doing a terrific job of walking the fine line between comping and classy trio jazz. Peter Smith sets off on a skipping, eloquent excursion backed up by strong, subtle drumming with outstanding brushwork from Clifford and Dankworth’s sturdy, virile bass. Smith plays a gorgeous, insistent intro on It Never Entered My Mind as Molly savours the lyric, Winston Clifford’s delicate drumming gradually grows into a mist of shimmering cymbals and Dankworth flicks gentle thunder from the strings, then solos sonorously.
Molly Ringwald reminds us that these songs are vehicles for some of the best lyrics ever written. The most powerful moment of the evening comes with Buddy Can You Spare a Dime? by Jay Gorney and Yip Harburg. Molly performs a solo vocal introduction, moving as fast as a startled cat, and then the trio comes in. The song is delivered in snatched phrases, full of impact and bringing out Harburg’s caustic, timeless rhapsody of class war. There’s a chiming bop solo from Smith, feverish and skilful bass by Dankworth and restrained, explosive playing by Clifford. It’s an exceptional arrangement by Smith and Molly Ringwald’s singing is punchy and anguished. The impact is impressive, and dramatic. The highlight of the set, and a very unexpected one. We’re a long way from smooth dinner jazz here.
LINK: Molly Ringwald interview