An Eclectic Gastronomy of Sound
It’s a haunting image. It stays in the mind partly because of the questions it raises: Why is the woman in the water? Why is she wearing an evening gown? Why is she in that semi-rigid pose? At first glance you might think she’s dead, but that outstretched-arm pose shows that she’s not. There’s a somewhat menacing, foreboding quality to the image, due to it’s shadowy blacks, whites, and grays and also to the underwater bottom beneath her which almost appears to be reaching up to drag her down. I first saw this image attached to the Bill Evans/Jim Hall jazz album from 1962 called Undercurrent:
The title added to the mystery and darkness of the image – was she about to be pulled in by an undercurrent? Yet, she doesn’t look especially scared or anxious to me, which tempers the foreboding and adds more depth (no pun intended) to the story in our minds that we might attach to the photo.
In actuality, the picture was taken by photographer Toni Frissell in 1947 at the mermaid attraction Weeki Wachi Springs in Florida. Knowing this is a bit of a letdown, as it removes the mystery (it was a performer at a tourist attraction?!). Yet, it’s still a great work of art, and I have a different kind of attachment to it knowing it’s circumstances. Growing up not more than an hour from Weeki Wachi, I have fond memories of visiting the Springs as a child and have been back just in the last few years with my daughter. The mermaid shows are still going strong (though the mermaids have tails now) and they still perform in the natural spring, accompanied by local wildlife such as turtles and the occasional manatee.
I don’t really like how they colorized the picture for the Evans/Hall release, but I do like the undulating font they chose. The album has since been reissued sans type on the cover, with the original uncolorized photo, yet lightened considerably, which gives it yet another feel. I like the clearer, higher defined bottom. Still others have added more realistic color. Both examples here:
But the saga of “Weeki Wachi Springs, Florida” is not quite over. Because the image is in the public domain (out of copyright), other bands have appropriated it to illustrate their album covers in the years since “Undercurrent”. This shows either shameless copying or ignorance of it’s already being used as a cover before (yet, they all used the “blue” version from the Evans/Hall “Undercurrent”…hmmmm….)
So, what does the music on the recording that first used Frissell’s iconic image sound like? Well, it’s straight ahead jazz. Evans (piano) and Hall (guitar) are considered masters of their instruments and are legends in the jazz world. Hall is still recording, though Evans died over 30 years ago. It’s not an album I listen to much, I think mainly because I wanted the music to sound like the cover and it really doesn’t. Though, to be fair, it would be hard for anyone to translate such an image to sound.