In 1960, four years after the venerable Blue Note Records signed pianist Jutta Hipp to their label, she stopped performing music entirely. Back in her native Germany, Hipp’s swinging, percussive style had earned her the title of Europe’s First Lady of Jazz. When she’d moved to New York in 1955, she started working at a garment factory in Queens to supplement her recording and performing income. She played clubs around the City. She toured. Then, with six albums to her name and no official explanation, she quit. She never performed publicly again, and she told so few people about her life in music that most of her factory coworkers and friends only discovered it from her obituary. For the next forty-one years, Jutta patched garments for a living, painted, drew and took photos for pleasure, all while royalties accrued on Blue Note’s books.
Steve Goodwin was a software engineer by profession, but music was his true passion. But he had never recorded or written anything down, nor played for anyone outside of his family and friends. As his memory began to fade, his family found a professional pianist, Naomi LaViolette, to work with him to save the music in his head. Steve played parts of his songs that he could remember, and Naomi filled them in. Through 2016 and into 2017, she memorized 16 of his favorite songs and scored the music for future musicians.
All those years, I never wrote my songs down or recorded them. Everything — every note and phrase and chord progression — was in my head. All my life, I could remember every song and how to play it.
Then I couldn’t.
I felt like my fingers and my heart were doing everything they were supposed to do. But the result wasn’t coming out the way it was intended. There was a gap between my head and the piano. I can absolutely hear the music in my head. That’s what’s so frustrating. I know how it’s supposed to sound, but I can’t make it happen.