The Jazz Singer


By the age of 3, you were already performing on stage with your dad. Do you remember those days? Very well. All my earliest memories tend to be focused around music and singing. I really thought for most of my childhood that’s what I was going to do when I grew up. Then the acting thing kind of took over.

Tell me about your dad? I’ve always been a real daddy’s girl. He started working in jazz clubs when he was about 15 years old. He grew a beard—which I’ve never seen him without—so he could pass for 18 and play music. He’s blind and raised our family on a musician’s salary.

What jazz artists do you love? I’ve been listening to a lot of Nina Simone lately. I love Blossom Dearie, Chet Baker, Anita O’Day. Also, there’s this 26-year-old French-American singer, Cecile McLorin
Salvant. She’s just fantastic.

When did you really find your voice? When I turned 40. That’s when I gave myself permission to put [my music] out there. When you’re known for one thing, even though you can do something else, sometimes you feel like, “What are people going to think? Am I going to be accepted?” Then you turn 40 and you just don’t care.

I love your Simple Minds cover [“Don’t You (Forget About Me)” from “The Breakfast Club”]. Was that an obvious choice or did you wrestle with it?  While we were recording the CD, John Hughes passed away. One day at rehearsal I asked Peter [Smith], “Is there any way we could do this song as a ballad?” I started singing it a cappella and he put these beautiful chords behind. It was really interesting. I thought it would be a nice tribute to John because music was so important to him and also to our relationship. I have to say, I idolized him. He was a very unique, dynamic person. When we did those movies together, we clearly had a sort of creative synchronicity. He truly loved music and would just give me mix tape after mix tape. He’s the person who really introduced me to the Beatles. Before then, I had only heard “I Am the Walrus” and it freaked me out as a kid.

What’s it like interacting with your fans? Does anyone come up and ask if they can borrow your underpants for 10 minutes like in “Sixteen Candles?” [Laughs] No! But that would be funny. People are incredibly nice. When I perform, I’ll often call out to the audience and ask questions, like “Who is the greatest jazz vocalist of all time?” At the Montreal Jazz Fest, that’s no problem. But a couple of times it’s been dead silent. Yikes. I realized afterward, when I was signing CDs, that tons of people have never heard the Great American Songbook—and now they love it. It was this feeling of “Oh my God, we’re ambassadors of jazz.”

You’re the gateway drug to Ella Fitzgerald. I’m a gateway drug! Yes!

So what’s next? Is there really a “Jem and the Holograms” movie? Yep, I’m in that. I also just started filming another movie—and I’m working on my next novel and starting to think about another CD. Maybe a live concert on DVD.

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