Mobile 3/24/2018 - 3/27/2018
Monday 3/26/18 - Visiting Frank's Grave, LoDa, Jazz Jambalaya featuring Karmilla AliI needed to put in some hours for work today, so I woke up and got an early start while Craig slept in. He was feeling exhausted, so we just took it easy, made coffee in the room, and took showers.
We got in touch with Karmilla, and she offered to take us to see Frank's grave. When we had been here for the funeral in 2005, the headstone had not yet been installed. She had sent us photos, but we wanted to see it in person and visit our dear friend. We couldn't quite remember how to get to the cemetery, so it was good that we were able to follow Karmilla.
There are two cemeteries across the street from one another. The larger one had been the white cemetery, and the smaller one, where Frank and his family were buried, had been the African American cemetery. Karmilla told us that Frank's grandfather had been the caretaker of both of these cemeteries, and that's how they procured this family plot.
It was great to see Frank's lovely headstone, and to say a few words to our beloved friend. We think about him all the time; we have such fond memories of our time together. Karmilla says that she thinks that he was smiling down on the three of us together at his grave, and we agree. We never got to know his family while he was alive, but I'm sure that he would be delighted to know that we are visiting his daughter over 12 years after his passing.
Karmilla had to prepare for the night's gig, but she wanted to show us the venue to make sure that we were able to find our way there. We followed her to the Gulf City Lodge, and she pointed out where we should park. She said that we should arrive at 6 o'clock, and that there would be table reserved for us. "And in case you're wondering, you won't be the only white people there!" She said with a smile, "I have a lot of white fans." We certainly weren't worried about that!
We decided to drive downtown, since we had never been there. We drove along the Mobile River, seeing the convention center, cruise terminal, and shipping yards. Since we had skipped breakfast, we were starting to get very hungry.
We needed to find a place for lunch, so we parked in a lot and walked down Joaqim Street toward Lower Dauphin (LoDa). We passed the Saenger Theatre, with lightbulbs flashing on its marquee. Craig recognized the name as the same as a theatre in New Orleans. It turns out that the Saengers of Louisiana owned several hundred theatres which bore their names. This one was built in 1927 and is still used for cultural events today. It was a classic historic theatre.
Many of the buildings had that archetypal French southern architecture, with cast iron balconies overlooking the street. Beutifully lush Southern live oaks lined the street. We passed a cool mural entitled #HeartOfMobile by Jeff Butler (JRB2):
We had lunch at LoDa Biergarten in downtown. It boasted the best burgers in town and 102 brews on tap (though Craig only needed one). They had funky picnic tables outside, but it was chilly and sprinkling rain, so we opted to eat inside. It was a hip place, with loud music and many TV's showing sports. It was a fun and funk space, but not conducive to conversation. In fact, my phone rang while we were there and I didn't even consider answering it as I knew I had no chance of hearing the caller!
Not able to partake in any of the 102 beers, I once again found a nice cider selection on the menu. I chose a Crown Valley BlackBerry Cider. Craig, feeling a bit punchy, was seduced by the name of the Chandeleur Li’l Smack IPA.
Many things on the menu looked delicious. I settled on a German meatloaf sandwich topped with melted cheddar cheese, served with "homemade onion rings soaked in Abita Amber, coated in our house breading and deep-fried." How can you go wrong? Craig selected a "Hugh Jass Waffle Burger" with onion rings. This was an 8 oz burger with a sunny side up egg, cheese, sausage, and bacon served between two waffles with maple syrup. Southern cuisine is out of control!
The phone call I had missed during lunch was from Frank's sister Eloise. We had been hoping to get a chance to see her on this visit. Her house is on the way back to the hotel, so we stopped in for a quick hello.
Eloise looked great, and it was nice to reconnect with her. This is the lady who baked us a cake and sent it in the mail following Frank’s funeral. It showed up in remarkably good condition and was delicious!! Eloise said that we still need to come down for Mardi Gras sometime. We had heard many stories of Frank's time selling fresh roasted peanuts at Mobile Mardi Gras. Mobile, initially the capital of French colony Louisiana, was the first place in America which celebrated Mardi Gras, starting in 1703.
We enjoyed reminiscing with her about Frank, and also catching up on what she and her family are up to these days. Her great-grandson, a senior in high school, stopped in to see her after school and seemed pretty surprised to see us sitting in the living room! But he was quite polite, and Eloise explained that we were friends of "Frank Junior." I couldn't help but wonder if he was the same great-grandson we met who was doing pushups at the fish fry back in 2005...he's around the right age.
We headed back to the hotel to freshen up and headed off to the Karmilla's gig. The historic Gulf City Lodge dates back to the 1870's, at which time it housed a brothel. It became an Elks Lodge beginning in 1924. In 1939, the Colored Carnival Association (later known as the Mobile Area Mardi Gras Association (MAMGA)) was formed, and used the Gulf City Lodge as its headquarters.
Today, the non-profit Mystic Order of the Jazz Obsessed (MOJO) holds "Jazz Jambalaya" here on the fourth Monday of each month. (The name is inspired by the Mystic Orders which serve as Carnival social organizations, similar to krewes in New Orleans). A program developer plans the theme of a jazz concert, and they serve a light dinner of jambalaya, salad, snacks, and desserts.
Tonight's program, developed by Hosea London, is called Della & Divas, and features Karmilla as the vocalist. We were so excited to get to see her perform for the first time! We arrived at the appointed time (6 p.m.) and Karmilla had reserved a table for us right up front. We were welcomed by Hosea, and soon Karmilla came out to greet us.
Emcee Carmen Brown welcomed the audience and directed them to the food line. Everyone queued up and got their food. We just got drinks from the bar. Even though the food was included in the very affordable ticket price, we were just too stuffed from lunch to eat another bite. Karmilla introduced us to Carmen Brown and photographer E.J. Wright, who would be capturing the event.
Once everyone returned to their tables with food, Hosea introduced the program by giving historical context and biographical information about the divas who made these songs famous. The band warmed up with a couple of instrumentals, including Miles Davis' "All Blues" from "Kind of Blue."
Then Karmilla joined them. She looked gorgeous in a sparkly blouse, flowy black pants with ruffles, and high heels. When she mentioned during her set that she would turn 70 in July, members of the audience as well as the band were incredulous. She alternated between standing, sitting, and strutting, performing such songs as
Karmilla Ali performs at Jazz Jambalaya
Karmilla was the consummate professional, with charisma that simultaneously had the audience eating out of her hand and kept the band in check. There were times when the band wasn't quite on the same page, and she dealt with the situation quite skillfully. She was able to redirect things and get it back on course.
She was an excellent frontwoman. Highlights included "Boy from Ipanema" during which she strutted her stuff on the dancefloor and the big finish, "Someday You'll Want Me To Want You." The latter was a song that she has always wanted to sing, and tonight she finaly got her chance. The song fit her like a glove and was the perfect closing number.
We had smiles on our faces the entire time. And it was so nice to see so many of the audience members come up to talk to her after the set, some of her regular fans.
We had a lovely evening. We had never had the pleasure of seeing her sing live before, and she did not disappoint! She is a dynamic performer and put on an amazing show. She apologized that it wasn't the tightest performance with the band, but there was no need to apologize. It was not her usual band and they hadn't had much time to rehearse. Jazz is improvisational anyway, so it's good when it's not too polished; it's more real.
We know that her dad Frank would be so proud! All of her friends at MOJO were so friendly and welcoming, and it was great to see her in her element.
At the end of the night, she stuffed her Shure microphone into her pocketbook and we walked together to the parking lot. We drove back to the hotel, where we sat in the lobby chatting for about half an hour, saying our farewells after a wonderful visit. We hope to meet her again soon!
Gulf City Lodge
Karmilla visiting Frank's grave
Visiting Frank's grave
Craig's Hugh Jazz Waffle Burger, LoDa Biergarten
Visiting Frank's sister Eloise
Karmilla performing at MOJO's Jazz Jambalaya
Karmilla performing at MOJO's Jazz Jambalaya
Photo courtesy of E.J. Wright