Jutta Hipp, a jazz pianist from Germany who had a short, celebrated career in the 1950's playing in New York nightclubs and making records for the Blue Note label, then turned her back on jazz to become a dressmaker, died on Monday at her home in Queens. She was 78.
The cause has not been determined, said Tom Evered, general manager of Blue Note Records.
Ms. Hipp (whose first name was pronounced YOU-ta) left Europe for the United States in 1955. As a young adult, she studied at the Leipzig Academy of Graphic Arts in East Germany, but crossed over to West Germany in 1946 after the Russians moved in to occupy Leipzig.
In an interview with Whitney Balliett of The New Yorker, she said that she had been excited about the initial postwar 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 hillbilly music." She did not get along much better with the Russians, who wanted to put her design skills to work on propaganda posters.
Ms. Hipp had been playing piano since she was 9, and in West Germany she played in a circus and eventually at nightclubs.
In Munich she started her own small group, and around 1951 a friend sent a tape to the American jazz critic and record producer Leonard Feather. Feather found her in Germany in 1954 and arranged a visa for her to work in the United States. Once she was in New York, he booked her at the Hickory House jazz club.
She started playing at the Hickory House in March 1956 and stayed there for six months. Through Feather's agency, three records appeared in quick succession on Blue Note: "Jutta Hipp With Zoot Sims" and two volumes of "Jutta Hipp at the Hickory House," with a trio including the bassist Peter Ind and the drummer Ed Thigpen. She appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956.
After spending time with her idols — Erroll Garner, Lennie Tristano and Bud Powell — she developed a style that was lean, percussive, swinging and interrupted with plenty of rests, not far from Horace Silver's style but more low-key.
In 1958 she stopped playing jazz because of low self-confidence, her friends said. After living for a time at a hotel in Manhattan, she settled in Queens and earned a living as a seamstress. Her friends said that they never heard of her performing again.
Her obscurity was so complete that Blue Note Records could not mail royalty checks because it had no address. In 2000 the label found her through the saxophonist Lee Konitz and his wife, Gundula. She was living alone in Jackson Heights, Queens, without a piano. The company presented her with a check for back royalties, amounting to $40,000, built up over years of sales, principally in Europe and Japan, of her three albums on LP and CD.
Ms. Hipp has no known survivors.