Unless you are a jazz super nerd or a record collector with deep pockets the name Jutta Hipp probably won't mean much to you. The obscure German-born pianist's life story reads like a tragic romance novel in which our heroine is ascendant and sparkling with promise, only to have those hopes dashed and disappear into the mists of time. The condensed version goes like this; she survived growing up in WWII Germany, attended art school, had a child with a black G.I. and gave him up for adoption, turned her sights from her classical piano background to play jazz in post-war German nightclubs, was coaxed by Leonard Feather to come to America where jazz stardom awaited her, came to America in 1955 and cut some records for the famous Blue Note label (original pressings of these LPs now fetch extravagant sums), quits the jazz scene for good in 1958 and becomes a seamstress. Jutta Hipp's exile from jazz was self-imposed and she never returned.
Jazz historian Katja von Schuttenbach's master's thesis sheds light on the saga of Jutta Hipp and reveals various factors that ultimately led to her disappearing act. Chronic stage fright, troubles with alcohol (perhaps inflamed by performance-anxiety issues), and pissing off Leonard Feather by rejecting his amorous advances all led to her retreat from jazz. Later in life Hipp was reticent to talk about her early jazz career in the States and told author Iris Timmermann in a 1986 interview that walking away from it all likely saved her life. In a 1998 interview, she stated bluntly, “...those were miserable times. I don’t want to remember them.” Von Schuttenbach surmises that Hipp may have suffered from undiagnosed and untreated post-traumatic stress syndrome, and when one dwells on the scant facts of her early life it does not seem an unreasonable claim. Whether she was unsuited to the business of jazz or to the undoubtedly insufferable machismo surrounding it, Jutta Hipp was saving herself from Jutta Hipp.
While she had successfully extricated herself from performing, recording, and drinking, Hipp returned to her first passion and took to drawing and painting again. The German jazz magazine Jazz Podium, which she kept in contact with, published some of her caricatures of well-known jazz musicians. Along with painting, which was an endeavor that would continue for the last 40 years of her life, she would write poetry and quietly slip into jazz clubs, camera in tow, looking and listening for new talent. These pursuits were solitary and purely for her own enjoyment. Even though she had given up the limelight as a vaunted new talent in jazz, it is clear that Jutta Hipp maintained a life of private creativity.