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From hairdresser to L.A. lounge icon, Marty Roberts is remembered as a musical idol

Marty Roberts performs at The Dresden in Los Angeles.
Hali Gillin
Marty Roberts performs at The Dresden in Los Angeles.

The jazz and lounge music world has lost one of its most iconic personalities. Marty Roberts — one half of the married lounge act "Marty & Elayne" died last week, at 89.

For decades, the duo performed five to six nights a week — Marty on drums and vocals, Elayne on piano and flute.

They were fixtures at the Los Angeles bar and restaurant The Dresden Room — with its retro red booths and stiff cocktails — where they played an eclectic mix of jazz standards, original numbers and their own twists on pop hits.

Their rendition of Stayin' Alive in a cameo in the 1996 movie Swingers shot them into pop culture stardom.

"They would take a regular song and turn it into jazz whether it was jazz or not," said Hali Gillin, their daughter. "The music had to be flawless. And my mom, that's her department. She composed every piece of music for the entire band and orchestra. She can play all the instruments. ... And then, together, they literally made magic with their music."

The duo often drew standing-room-only crowds.

"They have fans in probably every country and they would come to America. That would be one of the stops that they needed to make," Gillin said.

While fans may have come for the music, they'd get plenty of personality too.

Marty and Elayne on their wedding day accompanied by their moms, Ada Rauch (left) and Rachelle Rosen (right).
/ Hali Gillin
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Hali Gillin
Marty and Elayne on their wedding day accompanied by their moms, Ada Rauch (left) and Rachelle Rosen (right).

"If you were rude and talked a lot while my mom was playing certain songs, she would turn up the synthesizer and teach you that's not polite. And my dad, if you talked too much, he would literally get on the mic and say, hey, you don't have a speaking part in this," Hali said, laughing.

That frankness, Gillin said, was on full display when her parents first met in 1970.

"My dad, he was a hairdresser before," Gillin explained. "He looked at my mom and basically said, like, I need to trim your hair. Like, you got some split ends! And my mom was like, 'How rude'! But, eventually, they got past it, and my mom said she knew right when she met him that she was going to marry him."

They tied the knot just four months later.

Through the decades, the pair had their share of famous fans. When Frank Sinatra showed up to see them play, Roberts serenaded him with one of the legend's own tunes.

Marty Roberts with his wife Elayne (middle) and daughter Hali (left).
/ Hali Gillin
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Hali Gillin
Marty Roberts with his wife Elayne (middle) and daughter Hali (left).

Gillin said her mom taught her dad how to play the bass and helped him learn to sing. "He knew, basically, but she made him a lot better. And he gave her courage because she had all this talent, but she's a tiny little lady hiding behind a piano. ... It was like a perfect match."

Marty & Elayne continued to record together until just about a month ago.

Gillin said her mom has moved to Las Vegas with her.

"Hopefully, she'll be able to find some people to play with here ... She's got a lot of music left in her."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.