Jutta Hipp: At Hickory House Vol 1 (1956) Blue Note/UA 1975

After pushing at the boundaries of jazz into the fusion-heavy 1970’s, a new acquisition offered an opportunity to walk back a decade or more, to early beginnings of Blue Note, and the brief career of Jutta Hipp.

Selection: Dear Old Stockholm

.  .  .

(Tune with an impressive pedigree, other versions of this Swedish folksong are to be found on Miles Davis ‘Round About Midnight, and John Coltrane’s Impressions, )

Artists

Jutta Hipp, piano; Peter Ind, bass; Ed Thigpen, drums.  Recorded at The Hickory House,  52nd and 7th Avenue, NYC, April 5, 1956, engineer Rudy Van Gelder.

Putting music in context, more geo-political history lessons:

Jutta Hipp was born in 1925 in Leipzig, a major urban and industrial centre of East Germany. During WWII Leipzig was a major target of Allied bombing, as a manufacturing centre of the Luftwaffe Messerschmitt fighter-plane.  Hipp’s jazz education, in her late teens, consisted of clandestine radio listening sessions, sometimes during Allied bombing raids.

At the end of World War II, Leipzig was liberated by American forces, but East Germany overall was occupied and administered by Soviet forces, and East Germany was renamed the GDR, the German Democratic Republic,  part of the Soviet-controlled Eastern Bloc.

In an interview with Whitney Balliett for The New Yorker, Hipp recalled that she had been excited about the initial post-war occupation of Leipzig by American forces. ”We were very happy at their coming and brought out all our jazz records to play for them,” she said. ”No response. We were terribly hurt until we discovered what was wrong, which was that those G.I.’s didn’t like jazz; they liked Country and Western  music.”

When Soviet troops took control of Leipzig in 1946, she fled in the company of a small group west  to the Allied-occupied zones, crossing the border in the Alps.

She found a place for her piano skills on the Munich jazz scene, and in 1952, recorded with saxophonist  Hans Koller, forming her own quintet in Frankfurt. Early ’50s recorded works include, left, possibly the worst record cover ever seen, Cool Dogs and Two Oranges.

By a twist of fate, British-born jazz pianist and jazz writer Leonard Feather received a tape that included Hipp playing, and loved what he heard. Eager to meet Jutta in person,  Feather, who was touring in Germany at the time, made a late-night side trip to Duisburg , where he found Hipp jamming in a cellar club.

Three months later Feather had arranged for a recording session in Frankfurt for the Jutta Hipp Quintet, which became  Blue Note’s first Hipp release BLP 5056  New Faces – New Sounds from Germany. (Jutta Hipp, piano; Emil Mangelsdorff, alto sax; Joki Freund, tenor sax; Hans Kresse, bass; Karl Sanner, drums). Feather sponsored her move to New York.

“At 11 A.M. on November 18, 1955, a nervous figure stepped off the gangplank of the S.S. New York at Pier 88 in Manhattan and gazed around with myopic eyes at the unfamiliar landscape of a strange new country. Jutta Hipp had arrived in America,”

Feather introduced Hipp to fellow German migrants Alfred Lion and Francis Wolff, proprietors of Blue Note Records, and to The Hickory House, a 52nd Street jazz joint where she took up a six-month residency, and where two trio albums “At The Hickory House” (Volume 1 & 2) were recorded for Blue Note.

After a successful further recording date with Zoot Sims (BLP 1530), Jutta had need of a more reliable source of income, and took a job in a clothing factory. She continued to perform part-time on weekends,  keeping to smaller venues in Brooklyn and Queens.  In 1960 she abandoned the piano altogether.

It was not until 2001 that Blue Note found around $35,000 in her royalties account, and on the telephone, gave her the good news. The line apparently fell silent, seconds passed, then in her heavy German accent, the impoverished 76 year old Hipp replied, “Mein Gott!” Hipp passed away in 2003, age 78.

(Some of this condensed bio of Jutta has been plagiarised from the inimitable Marc Myers (Jazz Wax) Inside Story of Jutta Hipp, making good some missing pieces of her story, full credit to Jazz Wax).

Of the other members of the Jutta Hipp trio, drummer Ed Thigpen moved to Copenhagen, Denmark in the ’70s, to  join the burgeoning expatriate  jazz community in that city, and where he remained until his departure in 2010.

Last I heard, bass player Peter Ind was just about to celebrate his 90th birthday in London at Chelsea’s 606 Club.  Looks like the Brits  had, by a narrow margin, the longest running genes in this short-lived trio. For Peter Ind, you wonder what it must feel like to  look back uniquely over six decades of modern jazz, from being there on podium at the Hickory House in 1956. BBC Jazz Library hosts a 60 minute interview with Peter on those lifetime recollections, linked, but unfortunately location restrictions apply to playback.

Music

Put aside the original vinyl collector minutae, flat edges, ears and blank spines, the critical question is what is the music like? This is where angels fear to tread. Jutta’s playing  style has been described as close to Horace Silver: “lean, percussive, swinging“, which is not a bad place to be. Her German accent introduces each tune, which conclude with a gentle ripple of applause, and Van Gelder’s wonderful live recording ensures you have a seat in the front row.

The selection, Dear Old Stockholm, is a joy, her execution is perfect. The essential notes of the engaging  melody are firmly anchored, rhythmically driven and embellished with elegant figures, imaginative excursions, sparkling cascades, a controlling sense of purpose and direction. The rests  fall at irregular intervals, maintaining interest in the inventive flow. Ind and Thigpen provide tasteful, contrasting detail to complete the ensemble.

There are some artists whose thinking is so formulaic you know what notes they are going to play long before they play them, the Three Sounds come to mind. At the other end of the  spectrum is an artist like Cecil Taylor, unsettling, each note or phrase seems unconnected to those which preceded, or those which follow, two feet planted firmly in mid-air, which some listeners find pleasurable, though not me.

Somewhere between the two is Jutta, artists who create music with skill and finesse, beautiful, still maintaining an element of surprise within the jazz canvas. This lady could play. She is not Bill Evans (heroin) or Bud Powell (champagne) or Herbie Hancock (um, Mint Julep?), more a Dry Martini, a relaxing way to close an intimate evening in, at The Hickory House.

Hey bartender, hit me one more time…

Vinyl: BLP 1515 mono reissue United Artists (1975)

The ’70s Division of United Artists reissue series is a treasure chest of otherwise impossible to find or afford classic Blue Note titles. Mostly released in mono format (only a few are ill-judged stereo), with repro-original covers (though none laminated), priced by the market at around  5%-10% of “originals” and with the benefit of low wear and tear domestic hi-fi, not ’50s destructive 20 gram tone-arms.

The mid ’70s Div UA series would be I guess from original tapes, or copy original tapes, before any digital interference but still at the crossroads of tube and solid state electronics. Is there an identifiable “transistor sound”? If so, this is probably it. I think they play better than ’80’s Japanese reissues which are often the next  nearest alternative. However don’t get carried away. The few times I have been able to A:B original Blue Note against their Division of UA counterparts, originals walk seriously taller.

Collector’s Corner

What I have is the  70’s Division of UA series. What I would like to have, is…

Lexington. But unfortunately, there is just one small problem…

Top twenty auctions. Lexington flat-edge RVG ear BLP 1515…arrives at a price, typically over $1,000 to just short of $2,000. Not as bad as the Jutta album with Zoot Sims album BLP 1530, which runs to a giddy $4,000 but still enough to deter all but the deepest pockets.

However the Hickory House set comes in two volumes, so of course you must have both, to complete the full live experience. How could you not? I mean, If you were there in the front row at Hickory House, Jutta catches your eye, smiles modestly, would you leave half way through her performance, leaving an empty seat, which of course she would be bound to notice…”Zey don’t like meZey walk out!  I can not continue… ”

By the time you have doubled up the Lexingtons, your budget is going north, rapido. Now, start saving up for the Zoot Sims. Myself, I’m happy enough with that foxy Division of United Artists reissue. Mind you, original would be nice…that laminated cover… very desirable. Now I’m on the look out for an affordable Volume II. Could be a long wait.

“Division of United Artists” classic Blue Note title reissues – any thoughts? German Jazz?

LJC

 

 

 

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14 thoughts on “Jutta Hipp: At Hickory House Vol 1 (1956) Blue Note/UA 1975

  1. The Hickory House albums are excellent indeed. Some of that Horst Lippmann material (with the cheesy cover art) has come out in the CD era, and nicer looking to boot. Maybe on Jazzhus Disk? One more for Ms. Hipp, a real gem of a player.

  2. I met a new hard bop collector around 2005 who told me he was surprised that Jutta Hipp was famous and her recordings were so sought after. He had grown up in Queens N.Y.
    and remembered in the 80’s seeing flyers in his local laundromat offering piano lessons. They were posted by Jutta who he just knew as one of his “elderly” neighbors and had no idea of her earlier fame. Unfortunately she had passed before he had a chance to express his admiration…..

  3. Thanks for a Jutta post – I especially love the two Hickory House LPs. Aural dry martinis indeed!

    I feel obliged to point out that there’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that Jutta’s disappearance from the scene wasn’t through choice (or financial necessity) but was a consequence of her spurning Feather’s romantic advances.

    Such a shame that we’ll never get to hear more of her music. Thank goodness we live in (hopefully) more enlightened times…

    There was a biography of her published a few years ago as part of a CD box set. Does anyone know if it’s available separately?

    • Seems to be a bit of a pattern with Leonard Feather–“discovering” a talented woman musician and then coercing her to do what he wanted. Similar story with Vi Redd, a very talented alto saxophonist who Feather tried to make into a vocalist, squandering her instrumental recording career quite quickly.

  4. Well the “Division of United Artists” Editions are quite nice if the originals or early pressings are more or less unobtainable. I scoop them up when I find them! The sound is quite good and for me somehow feel more original than the usual pressings from Japan – maybe because they were issued by Blue Note – who knows? For instance just aquired Johnny Griffin Vol2 “1559” and actually it is a 2nd pressing of the title being unissued between 1957 and 1972.

  5. Thank you for remembering Jutta. I actually have that Lexington version of Volume 2 as it used to be in my father’s pile of twentysomething jazz records that came to me. Unfortunately it is not even in poor quality. There is not one single track on it that plays without hanging and/or jumping of the needle. So I went for a Japanese copy. Still looking for Volume 1 though…

  6. I’d heard of the name Jutta Hipp for years, and wondered if he (I presumed it was a man’s name) was a concocted person of fiction. I’m glad to know I was wrong, and that Jutta can indeed play some cool jazz. I find her (from this one tune) to be quite listenable… an excellent way to spend an evening with a glass of Rhone. A nice feeling of melancholy. Thanks for bring her to life for me. Sehr gut meine freund!

  7. Out of Germany since the late 60s came ECM, Enja, MPS, SABA, ACT, FMP and about 20 more small labels at least. I would say Germany became the beating heart of innovative jazz whilst America went to sleep, mainly whacking out diluted fusion or conservatively recording the standards of 50 years ago. My first love in jazz is the Spiritual style led by Coltrane, with last weeks Katanga firmly in that school, but then the 4000+ great German Jazz albums eclipses Americas output from the 70s to now, for the most part, I reckon.

  8. I have the Vol 2 Toshiba reissue – sounds excellent, as many of these Japanese pressings do

    She has her own style and really can play – Leonard Feather and Blue Note knew talent.Its not so easy to hear where her musical influences are coming from though

    Her command of blues was a big surprise to me – she plays a number called “After Hours” with real feeling for the blues, a sort of rolling barrel house with some sophisticated right hand figures.

    I wonder who she heard back in Germany and the Eastern Block after the war ,probably on 78s and V Discs from US Forces? There was a lot of swing music around, but there was also Ellington ,Basie and Art Tatum taking jazz piano further

    JH story is inspirational – it must have been a pretty dangerous hobby belonging to a sub culture listening to and playing jazz in 30s and 40s Germany and the post war Eastern Block.Maybe its the ultimate expression of musical rebellion!

    • Interesting to speculate on JHs experiences as a young jazz player and jazz fan in Nazi Germany.

      The Nazis organised The Hitler Youth (boys) and League of Maidens (girls) in order to indoctrinate their ideology.Apparently up to 1943 there were various youth groups of anti Nazi subversives throughout Germany e.g. predominantly in Hamburg and Berlin the Swingjugend (Swingyouth)comprising jazz fans who used jazz to communicate in order to subvert the party lineThey had a dress code, spoke jive and were known as swing boys and swing girls.Swing girls apparently had plucked eyebrows wore their hair long and wore make up, whereas the League of Maidens girls wore no make up and had their hair braided and wore traditional dress (the sort you see in old newsreels throwing flowers at Hitlers passing car). Specific to Leipzig was a subversive anti party youth movement known as Meuten

      It is conceivable that JH knew of, possibly supported these anti party movements, as a jazz musician and fan based in Leipzig ?Although I have only seen post war photos ,she looks like a “swing girl” and certainly looks very unconventional given US womens fashions in the 50s

      In 1943 these youth movements were savagely suppressed by the party and jazz was viewed as degenerate.It is terrifying to think that the reality was that you could get a knock on the door at 3AM and be taken away never to be seen again, just for playing your Fats Waller 78s!

      As I said earlier JH story is inspirational and it makes her departure from jazz even more tragic after being signed to Blue Note

      The above is speculation after reading some of her interviews and looking on Wikepedia – if anyone has any detail about her early life, I would be glad to hear of it

      Her music speaks for itself

  9. I have both volumes on Toshiba reissues. Would welcome older copies but they are scarce, as noted.

    While I admire Jutta’s playing, it can come across as a quite limited in expression and range – a but timid or apologetic maybe – if nevertheless faithful to the music and intent. I find myself wishing she might accidentally had too much to drink or smoke before a gig, to loosen her playing and invite more careless, devil-may-care improvisation. Sadly not. Still worth having though.

  10. Nothing ‘new’ here. Have been listening to her for years. Bought a cassette with her on the front…Yum, yum, bought it just for that and liked what I heard but hose eyes and bangs. Germans are a strange lot. Hard to get to know them and the girls?? I was TDY there in the 70’s and all they wanted was to get knocked up and come to Amerika. OK, time for a ‘story’ on Dewey Johnson and his John Coltrane days. Lots of ‘meat’ there and he’s alive but not to well in NYC!
    Go Canes..

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