Born: February 4, 1925 | Died: April 7, 2003 Primary Instrument: Piano
EARLY CAREER IN GERMANY
She had been active as a professional pianist in her native Germany from 1946 on, was a member of the Hans Koller Quartet in the early 1950s and from 1954-55 led her own combo, The Jutta Hipp Quintet. Members of her Frankfurt/Main based band included Emil Mangelsdorff, Joki Freund, and, on occasion, guitarist Atilla Zoller. Hipp was able to claim the honor of having been the only widely known and highly respected female jazz pianist in Germany and beyond (“Europe's First Lady of Jazz”) until the mid-1980s despite the fact that she never returned to her native country. As a pianist Hipp was deeply rooted in the swing tradition and, self-admittedly, her performance style was influenced by Count Basie and Teddy Wilson as well as Fats Waller. By the time East German refugee Hipp begun playing professionally in Bavaria in 1946, bebop had arrived as the latest “fad” in jazz. The pianist's new idol became Bud Powell. And although critics, fellow musicians, and fans recognized Lennie Tristano's influence in her playing by the early ‘50s, Hipp did not approve of such comparisons. She repeatedly went on record expressing her fondness of pianist Horace Silver as a worthy artistic inspirationmost likely for his blues-inspired rhythmic abilities. As Hipp, who also stepped forward as a composer on occasion, matured artistically, she had defined her own artistic standards and revolted when pressured to record music she did not like. She also suffered from severe stage fright throughout her career. Thus being the featured artist at a large performance venue was more of a daunting chore for Hipp than a joyful public celebration of her talent. According to her own accounts, all she wanted to do was play her music in intimate settings for jazz-enthused audiencesthe way she had entertained American GIs in military clubs in Germany in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
COMING TO AMERICA
Jutta Hipp arrived in New York on November 18, 1955on a large freighter, with fifty Dollars in her purse. The artist's immigration to the United States was sponsored and widely publicized by jazz critic Leonard Feather who had discovered Hipp while visiting Germany and was “blown away” by her talent. Within months of her arrival in New York, Hipp earned the notable distinction of becoming the first white female as well as the first European instrumentalist ever signed by the now legendary Blue Note Records label. Hipp cut three albums as leader for Blue Note in 1956.
The most successful of the Blue Note recordings featured tenor saxophonist Zoot Sims. (The Japanese Division of the Blue Note Records label re-released the Hipp recordings in 2000.) With Feather's assistance Hipp landed a highly coveted six-month engagement at the renowned Hickory House Restaurant in Manhattansubbing for touring house pianist Marian McPartland and was able to add a well-received debut at the 1956 Newport Jazz Festival to her credentials.
Hipp was not interested in making her living by being billed as a headliner or in playing and recording music that did not move her. For example, Hipp declined to record any of Leonard Feather's compositions. These “artistic differences” were partly responsible for her severing ties with Feather in 1956a decision that would impact her career considerably. Hipp did not record again but booked herself for smaller venues in New York City, on Long Island, and for a few national engagements, including at least one tour of the South with her as a side person. However, as jazz moved out of the arena of popular culture after 1956 and many small clubs closed, the anxieties resulting from the financial instability of her musician's life proved proofed too straining for Hipp. She was a single, self-supporting womanwithout any family in the United Statesand by the late 50s Hipp had taken on a day job as a seamstress at a clothing manufacturer in Queens (NY). After continuing to perform part-time on weekends until 1960, Hipp shifted her focus completely and refocused on her first love: drawing and painting.
As a teenager in Germany during World War II, she had attended the Leipzig Academy of Arts, majoring in graphic design. Hipp especially enjoyed painting in watercolor and ink with motives ranging from buzzing street life scenes in Queens to peaceful landscapes of her favorite Long Island beaches, and animal portraits. In 2000 several of her paintings were featured in an exhibition at the Langston Hughes Community Library and Cultural Center in Corona/Queens (NY).The artistwho was known for her quick wit and hearty laughteralso drew caricatures of jazz musicians she fancied and dedicated poems to them. Hipp was also a talented a doll-maker, creating a series of unique boudoir-style dolls some of which she donated to the Museum of the City of New York.
Hipp never touched a piano again and many of her longtime post-jazz era friends were not aware of her history as a trailblazing jazz pianist until they read the artist's published obituaries. However, she always remained close to the music she loved. Equipped with a small camera, Hipp tirelessly chronicled concerts at small jazz clubs around Queens. Throughout the years, she took photos of many jazz musicians whose performances she had enjoyed and sent them to friends and jazz magazines in her native Germany. Unshaken in her convictions stated decades earlier, and repeated in letters to friends throughout the years, Hipp never ceased to believe that the real jazz happened in small clubs, performed by superb musicians whose talents were not widely recognized because they did not push themselves into the limelight. Hipp, who had never married, died of pancreatic cancer on April 7, 2003, in her apartment in Sunnyside, Queens.
Francis Wolff/Mosaic Image LLC