Let’s throw it back to April 1, 1981 for a moment: It was two days after the attempted assassination of President Reagan. It was the day that Isuzu started selling automobiles in the United States. Blondie was topping the charts with “Rapture.” And husband and wife duo Marty and Elayne began what they thought was a two-week deal to perform at the Dresden on Vermont in Los Feliz. This April Fools’ Day, the duo will be celebrating 35 years with the restaurant.
For the first 19 years of their running engagement, the duo performed six nights a week, only taking a brief leave of absence for a stint singing on a cruise ship. For the subsequent 16 years, they have performed five nights a week, which means they have been mixing the American songbook with tunes by the likes of Ricky Martin for upwards of 9,000 nights.
But getting to The Dresden meant leaving a previous gig at The Derby. “It was called Michael’s Los Angeles, but it was The Derby,” Elayne says. “It was so beautiful. It looked like the Palace of Versailles with the crystal chandelier. And the boss from [The Dresden] used to check us out every Tuesday. We signed a two-week deal here beginning on April Fools’ Day. Everybody followed us from Michael’s, and we packed the place, so they gave us a six-month contract.”
Their previous employer was less than thrilled by their outside success. “Three months after we started here, the boss from up there showed up with a bottle of champagne in each hand and said, ‘We want you to come back,’” Elayne says. “I said, ‘We just signed a six-month contract.’ He said, ‘I’ll give you a five-year contract.’ So I said, ‘We don’t want to break a six-month contract; it’s binding.’ He said, ‘It’s just a piece of paper. Tear it up.’ So I said, ‘If it’s a piece of paper, what good is your five-year contract?’”
Throughout the conversation, Marty defers to Elayne—a lot. She recalls how the Dresden crowd started to skew younger after they performed in Tom Petty’s video for “Yer So Bad” and how appearing on jazz radio upped their status in the music industry. “We had Frank Zappa’s bass player playing with us, and we had the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and it was so much fun from ’87 to ’90,” she says. “Then, when the trendies started coming in, it got really crowded and it was hard to hear what you were doing.” They also memorably appeared in the 1996 film Swingers, in which they gained notoriety for their rendition of the Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive.”
“We’re basically jazz players,” Marty says. “Whatever song we do, we gotta make it swing. It has to come from here,” he says, pointing to his heart. The same goes for straying from the classics and adding in a slate of newer songs. “It’s like dating a bore,” Elayne says. “If a song doesn’t hit you, you leave it alone. There has to be chemistry, something that draws you to the tune.”
As for their own chemistry, Marty says it goes back to the first day they met. “We are very in sync together,” he says. “My wife is psychic.” Elayne jumps in. “He is, too,” she says. “We both have ESP. We are soul mates; we’re both die-hard jazz players.”
“She knows what I’m thinking—what can I do?” Marty adds.
Thirty-five years in, the pair is still going strong—with no plans to give up the spotlight any time soon. “Right now people say, ‘Why don’t you retire?’” Marty says. “And I say, ‘Retire to what?’ Where are we going to go?” Elayne plans to stick it out until, as she puts it, “the bottom falls out on the world all together.” Until that time, they’ll still be livin’ la vida loca.