Ask “Mr. Music”
Jerry Osborne


DEAR JERRY: Over many years of buying and listening to music, I must say the majority of record albums have one or more photos on the front cover of the performer(s).

This is especially true with newcomers, which allows for ones like the Beatles white album with no photos, only the title “The Beatles.”

An album I spotted on a recent listing of ones selling for $1,000 and up is an example of a cover without an artist photo, only a bunch of weird lines. It is also by an act I have never heard of, Jutta Hipp.

Lacking a photo means I don't even know if Jutta Hipp is a man, woman, or group. Is it instrumentals or vocals, or both?

No one I have asked about this knows anything at all about Jutta Hipp, but someone must to pay so much.
—Blaine Dandridge, Eau Claire, Wisc.

DEAR BLAINE: Jutta Hipp's story is easily the most fascinating of any female jazz star of the 1950s, as much for what she didn't do as what she did.

Before anyone in the U.S. heard of Jutta -- common German name that sounds like “hoot-a” -- she was Europe's most famous female jazz pianist, even topping jazz polls as the No. 1 pianist without regard to gender. Jutta does not sing on her recordings.

When New York's Blue Note Records got wind of this amazing 29-year-old, they agreed to release an album of her German recordings before ever meeting her.

That collection, “Jutta (New Faces - New Sounds from Germany)” (Blue Note BLP-5056) came out in January 1955. Rather than a photo of Fraulein Hipp, this cover art is merely a drawing of a similar looking woman.

Jutta left Germany in 1955, crossing the Atlantic by ship. She arrived in New York November 18th, and remained a New Yorker until her death, April 7, 2003, at the age of 78. She never returned to Germany, not even to visit family.

In 1956, Blue Note released “Jutta Hipp at the Hickory House, Vol. 1” (BLP-1515) and Vol. 2 (BLP-1516), from her shows at the famed Manhattan restaurant. Both covers picture Jutta on stage there.

The Blue Note LP seizing your attention is “Jutta Hipp with Zoot Sims” (BLP-1530), from a July 28, 1956 session acclaimed by critics as her finest hour. The accolades are due in no small part to featured saxophonist Zoot Sims.

This six-track collection, Hipp's hippest, last, and most valuable album, is also the one with the somewhat confusing cover you describe.

What may appear as “a bunch of weird lines” is really an abstract rendering of piano keys. You may have noticed about 10% of the keys, or notes, are blue. This is a subtle tie-in to the label itself, Blue Note Records.

That's some of what Jutta did. What she didn't do is sell out.

For her it was always about the music; never about the money. When the powers that be attempted to choose her music based on their sales projections, or in the case of her ex-mentor Leonard Feather, wanting Hipp to record his own compositions, Jutta would have none of it.

At the peak of her career, Jutta literally and figuratively walked out the studio door, never to return or record again. Not for anyone.

The need for a paycheck forced Jutta to work as a seamstress at a Queens clothing manufacturer, and for a couple of years she played on weekends in small clubs.

Beset with stage fright, she quit the weekend gigs in 1960 and, according to all reports, never played the piano again. Jazz officially lost one of its most significant talents.

It is both surprising and inexcusable that the Jutta Hipp story is not yet a motion picture. All of the elements are there and waiting for a visionary.

IZ ZAT SO? Reissues and repackages notwithstanding, there are but four original Blue Note albums by Jutta Hipp, none of which will likely be found in the bargain bin.

The 10-inch “Jutta (New Faces - New Sounds from Germany)” sells in the $500 to $1,000 range. Either volume of “Jutta Hipp at the Hickory House” is $1,000 to $1,500. For “Jutta Hipp with Zoot Sims,” the range is $2,000 to $4,000.

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