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, )
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.
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.
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 me! Zey 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?