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A Stronghold Persists

January 26, 1986|JANET CLAYTON | Janet Clayton is a Times staff writer.

When veteran jazz singer Ernie Andrews sings "Cabaret" on the intimate stage of Marla's Memory Lane, the words are persuading, a smooth and compelling suggestion.

"The music. I come here to hear the music," says Ibelle Winston. "When I don't want to hear all this 'Hey baby, it's me and you' kind of disco-type talk, I come here, because it's mellow."

Marla's Memory Lane on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in southwest Los Angeles has become a neighborhood refuge for serious jazz lovers. Claire Mitchell, a regular at the club, pauses to think before she describes the dinners and Sunday brunches served there. Continental? Nouvelle cuisine ? "Home cooked," she says.

Her attention turns back to Ernie Andrews, who is by now well into his act, buttoning and unbuttoning his sports coat, holding a handkerchief folded neatly over his left index finger for effect. Heads across the room bob, each person keeping time to the bass and the drums.

More than a quarter of a century old, Marla's Memory Lane is Southern California's oldest jazz supper club and has played host to many luminaries of jazz and popular music: Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Dizzy Gillespie, Lorez Alexandria and Freddie Hubbard. Owner Marla Gibbs is a star herself; for 11 years she played the sharp-tongued maid, Florence, on the TV series "The Jeffersons." She's now featured in the situation comedy "227."

Many compare Marla's Memory Lane to the lamented Parisian Room, a famous pink beacon for jazz lovers recently replaced by a gray post office. But Gibbs says her club caters not only to the name artists once featured at the Parisian Room but also to local talents.

"I saw (bluesman) Eddie (Cleanhead) Vinson here the other night," muses listener Delores Lewis. "It was great to see him. I knew Cleanhead when he had hair."

Monk Higgins, Marla's Memory Lane's musical director, brings in the popular draws--like Andrews and Vinson--but he also books such budding artists as Gerald Albright, a promising saxophonist. Whether it's pure jazz or blues-tinged, "if it's good music, we try to bring it here," Higgins says. "Our customers like a good, strong lyric and melody. This is a place to get that and feel good."

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