Tuesday, October 29, 2013

René Gruau for McGregor Sportswear (1954)

At the beginning of the summer, mention was made of USA-based McGregor Sportswear's introduction of the continental style into its product line. As I promised some further details on the matter, let's take another look now. 

McGregor Sportswear print ad, 1955, illustration by René Gruau

McGregor's roots reach back to New York, 1921 and Scottish immigrant David Doniger's establishment of a men's clothier. Doniger introduced the McGregor brand 2 years later and by mid-century was arguably the most well-known purveyor of what was be known as casual wear. Doniger was obviously just ahead of the curve. The concept of casual clothing did not really exist (much) before  the end of the Second World War. But with the wartime economy boom the reached through much of the 1940s and the cultural shift towards suburban pursuits, McGregor was positioned to take full advantage of the situation. 

McGregor Sportswear print ad, 1948, illustrator unknown

By the mid-1950s, the brand was firmly established but began to feel the heat of competition as regional favorites such as Pendleton began to utilize the quickly-maturing advertising industry to increase its nationwide presence. McGregor had always specialized in imports as much of its early offerings were truly from Scotland, but to keep pace it looked even further afield to Italy and the en vogue continental look. In 1954, what would be called continental style was most commonly referred to as Italian style and McGregor referenced the latter liberally in its advertisements for its new line of distinctly international and modern casual wear. 

McGregor Sportswear print ad, 1954, illustrator unknown

McGregor Sportswear print ad, 1954, illustration by René Gruau

To help sell this new look to a fairly staid and traditional market, McGregor (or most likely McGregor's advertising agency who I suspect, but cannot yet prove, was Y&R at the time) enlisted the services of one of the most talented fashion illustrators of the day, René Gruau. Italian-born Gruau, whose birth name was Renato Zavagli Ricciardelli delle Caminate, was 45 at the time his first print adverstisements for McGregor were published. He had only been living in New York for 9 years, having immigrated from Paris where he gained notoriety and no small amount of fame for his work with nearly every single important fashion magazine up until that time. A cursory look at his early work lends strong credence to the notion that his style completely changed the art of fashion illustration. And it certainly had a lasting impact on McGregor's approach to advertising. Gone were the flat, cartoon-like figures used early on (and still used by the competition at the time) to be replaced by impressionistic verging on abstract figures of intriguing looking gentlemen wearing garments with strange cuts and details. The Gruau commission was short-lived and only was run in magazines for a couple of years, but subsequent McGregor print ads unmistakably bore his influence. Mad Men could not have provided a better storyline!

McGregor Sportswear print ad, 1955, illustration by René Gruau

McGregor Sportswear print ad, 1956, illustration by René Gruau

McGregor Sportswear print ad, 1956, illustration by René Gruau

Post-Gruau era McGregor Sportswear print ad, 1962, illustrator unknown

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Eddie Diehl (2013)

Rarely does much time pass these days, before I find myself mourning the loss of yet another musical hero. We are truly witnessing the end of an era, as the last members of jazz music's great generation set exeunt for their big sleep. It's part of life, for sure, and certainly one of the pitfalls for those of us who admire so much the achievements of the 20th Century. Case in point: as I was sitting down to write this piece, I learned of the death of drummer Donald "Duck" Bailey. There isn't even an obituary posted, as I type these words, for the man who designed the template for modern jazz organ combo drumming and accompanied the master Jimmy Smith for years in clubs and on Blue Note LPs. Another one gone. May he rest in peace.

Donald Bailey (R.I.P.), photo c.1958 by Francis Wolff, Van Gelder Recording, Hackensack, NJ

And yet. And yet, I find myself actively (desperately?) looking these days for living, breathing, and thriving threads that connect back to where much of this begins for me. And in this spirit, I present Eddie Diehl. Who is Eddie Diehl? Well, for me that was just a name on a few random early-'60s Prestige jazz LPs by Brother Jack McDuff, Sonny Stitt, and Gene Ammons. Frankly, I never paid him much mind. I just figured he was another one of the cats like fellow guitarists Thornell Schwartz and Eddie McFadden. Forces to be reckoned with back in the day, for sure, but background voices perhaps somewhat doomed to obscurity, who may or may not have been given the proper respect of an obituary when that bell tolled.

Well, Here It Is... Eddie Diehl with Hank Jones, CD, 2006

But Eddie Diehl is alive and well and living in Poughkeepsie! Well, close enough at least. It turns out Eddie lived quite a storied life. Back when I was making music on the Hammond organ (1996-2007), I spent a lot of time absorbing the lessons to be learned in groves of those Smith Blue Notes and McDuff Prestige sides. But somehow I never quite grasped that Eddie was a regular member of McDuff's working group, arguably the finest jazz organ combo of its day, second only to Jimmy Smith's trio. Yes indeed, Diehl was Grant Green's replacement in late 1961 and stayed with McDuff (as the only white member of the combo, I should add) for nearly two years. His replacement? George Benson. Re-listening to Eddie's contributions to a disc like 1962's Brother Jack Meets The Boss, it is clear that Eddie was heavily influenced by bebop, but a working musician follows the money and Diehl spent much of the 1960s and 1970s working the organ rooms. By the end of the 1960s his discography all but sputtered out. 

Mr. Clean by Jack McDuff and Gene Ammons, January 23, 1962, Eddie Diehl on guitar 

Diehl moved upstate and re-focused his talents on luthiery, something that he now has a tremendous amount of notoriety for. But he never stopped playing. Occasional sessions would come up such as Al Haig's 1983 Manhattan Memories, but it was not until 2006 that Eddie had the opportunity to cut his first disc as a leader. Well, Here It Is gives you some indication of Eddie's self-effacing attitude, but it gives a better indication of what a lyrical, beautiful guitarist he is who obviously has spent more than a little time not only with his Charlie Christian and Charlie Parker records, but also with his George Van Eps books. 

Eddie Diehl by Bart Thrall, 2010

Fortunately, Bart Thrall took it upon himself to film an extended interview with Eddie and share it with us all up on YouTube. Granted, it's not the most professional "movie" and could probably use the guiding hand of a good editor, but it is a soulful little piece that means a lot to those of us who dig hearing stories of what it was like to be on the road with Jack McDuff in the early 1960s. It also adds a lot to the legacy of Diehl and celebrates a living, breathing, and musically vibrant exponent of this music that is all but vanishing before our very eyes. 

Duke Ellington's Prelude To A Kiss performed by Eddie Diehl, 2010

Eddie talks about his 1934 D'Angelico Model A guitar