Al Hirt (1966)
|Birth name||Alois Maxwell Hirt|
|Also known as||
November 7, 1922|
New Orleans, Louisiana, US
|Died||April 27, 1999
New Orleans, Louisiana, US
Al Hirt (November 7, 1922 – April 27, 1999) was an American trumpeter and bandleader. He is best remembered for his million-selling recordings of "Java" and the accompanying album Honey in the Horn (1963), and for the theme song to The Green Hornet. His nicknames included "Jumbo" and "The Round Mound of Sound". Hirt was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in November 2009.
Alois Maxwell Hirt was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of a police officer. At the age of six, he was given his first trumpet, which had been purchased at a local pawnshop. He would play in the Junior Police Band with the children of Alcide Nunez, and by the age of 16, Hirt was playing professionally, often with his friend Pete Fountain. During this time, he was hired to play at the local horse racing track, beginning a six-decade connection to the sport.
In 1940, Hirt went to Cincinnati, Ohio, to study at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music with Dr. Frank Simon (a former soloist with the John Philip Sousa Orchestra). After a stint as a bugler in the United States Army during World War II, Hirt performed with various Swing big bands, including those of Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Ina Ray Hutton.
In 1950, Hirt became first trumpet and featured soloist with Horace Heidt's Orchestra. After spending several years on the road with Heidt, Hirt returned to New Orleans working with various Dixieland groups and leading his own bands. Despite Hirt's statement years later "I'm not a jazz trumpeter and never was a jazz trumpeter", he made a few recordings where he demonstrated his ability to play in that style, during the 1950s with bandleader Monk Hazel, and a few other recordings on the local Southland Records label.
Hirt's virtuoso dexterity and fine tone on his instrument soon attracted the attention of major record labels and he signed with RCA Victor. Hirt posted twenty-two albums on the Billboard charts in the 1950s and 1960s. The albums Honey In The Horn and Cotton Candy were both in the Top 10 best sellers for 1964, the same year Hirt scored a hit single with his cover of Allen Toussaint's tune "Java" (Billboard No. 4), and later won a Grammy Award for the same recording. Both Honey in the Horn and "Java" sold over one million copies, and were awarded gold discs.
Sample from Green Hornet Theme from album "The Horn Meets The Hornet" RCA 1966
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Hirt was chosen to record the frenetic theme for the 1960s TV show "The Green Hornet", by famed arranger and composer Billy May. Thematically reminiscent of Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov's Flight of the Bumblebee, it showcased Hirt's technical prowess. The recording again gained public attention in 2003 when it was used in the film Kill Bill.
From the mid-1950s to early 1960s, Hirt and his band played nightly at Dan's Pier 600 at the corner of St. Louis and Bourbon Street. The club was owned by his business manager, Dan Levy, Sr. In 1962 Hirt opened his own club on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter, which he ran until 1983. He also became a minority owner in the NFL expansion New Orleans Saints in 1967.
In 1962, in an effort to showcase him in a different musical setting, Hirt was teamed with arranger and composer Billy May and producer Steve Sholes to record an album titled Horn A Plenty that was a departure from the Dixieland material that he was generally associated with. Covering an eclectic variety of popular, standard and show tunes, it featured a big-band supplemented by timpani, French horns and harp.
Sample from Memories Of You from "Horn A Plenty" RCA 1962
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On February 8, 1970, while performing in a Mardi Gras parade in New Orleans, Hirt was injured while riding on a float. It is popularly believed that he was struck in the mouth by a thrown piece of concrete or brick. Factual documentation of the details of the incident is sparse, consisting primarily of claims made by Hirt after the incident. Whatever the actual cause of his injuries, Hirt underwent surgery and had to wait a while and then practice slowly to make a return to the club scene. This incident was parodied in a Saturday Night Live skit from their second season Mardi Gras special, the "Let's Hit Al Hirt in the Mouth with a Brick Contest".
In 1999, Hirt died, aged 76, in New Orleans of liver failure, after spending the previous year in a wheelchair due to edema in his leg. Despite the bout with edema, Hirt continued to play in local clubs including Chris Owens Club. Hirt was buried in Metairie Cemetery in New Orleans.
Hirt had eight children, ten grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. In 1990, he married Beverly Estabrook Essel, a friend of 40 years.
|Year||Name||US Billboard Chart||US Adult Contemporary||Record Label||A-Side/B-Side||Album|
|1964||"Java"||4||1||RCA Victor 8280||B-Side: "I Can't Get Started"||Honey in the Horn|
|"Cotton Candy"||15||3||RCA Victor 8346||B-Side: "Walkin'"||Cotton Candy|
|"Walkin'"||103||—||RCA Victor 8346||A-Side: "Cotton Candy"||Cotton Candy|
|"Sugar Lips"||30||3||RCA Victor 8391||B-Side: "Poupee Brisee (Broken Doll)"||Sugar Lips|
|"Up Above My Head (I Hear Music in the Air)"||85||12||RCA Victor 8439||A-Side: "September Song"||Sugar Lips|
|1965||"Feelin' Fruggy"||-||30||RCA Victor 8684||B-Side: "Louisiana Lullaby"|
|"Fancy Pants"||47||9||RCA Victor 8487||B-Side: "Star Dust"||That Honey Horn Sound|
|"Al's Place"||57||13||RCA Victor 8543||B-Side: "Mister Sandman"|
|"The Silence (Il Silenzio)"||96||19||RCA Victor 8653||B-Side: "Love Theme from The Sandpiper"|
|1966||"Mame"||-||36||RCA Victor 8774||B-Side: "Seven Days To Tahiti"|
|"Trumpet Pickin'"||-||27||RCA Victor 8854||B-Side: "Skillet Lickin'"|
|"The Arena"||129||28||RCA Victor 8736||A-Side: "Yesterday"|
|"Green Hornet Theme"||126||-||RCA Victor 8925||B-Side: "Strawberry Jam"||The Horn Meets "The Hornet"|
|1967||"Ludwig"||-||23||RCA Victor 9381||Soul in the Horn|
|"Music to Watch Girls By"||119||31||RCA Victor 9060||B-Side: "His Girl"|
|"Puppet on a String"||129||18||RCA Victor 9198||B-Side: "Big Honey"|
|1968||"Keep the Ball Rollin'"||100||10||RCA Victor 9417||B-Side: "Manhattan Safari"|
|"We Can Fly/Up-Up and Away"||129||23|
|1969||"If"||116||16||RCA Victor 9717||A-Side: "Penny Arcade"|
|Year||Album||US Billboard Top 200||Top Jazz Albums||Record Label|
|1955||Al Hirt in New Orleans||-||-||Coral Music Group|
|1956||Al Hirt's Jazz Band Ball||-||-|
|1957||Al Hirt and His New Orleans All Stars||-||-||Southland Records|
|1957||Blockbustin' Dixie!||-||-||Verve Records|
|1958||Swingin' Dixie at Dan's Pier 600 in New Orleans, Vol. 1||-||-||Audio Fidelity Records|
|1958||Swingin' Dixie, Vol. 3||-||-||Audio Fidelity Records|
|1959||Swingin' Dixie at Dan's Pier 600 in New Orleans, Vol. 2||-||-||Audio Fidelity Records|
|1961||He's the King and His Band||61||-||RCA Victor|
|1961||The Greatest Horn in the World||21||-||RCA Victor|
|1962||At the Mardi Gras||-||-||RCA Victor|
|1962||Horn A-Plenty||24||-||RCA Victor|
|1962||Trumpet and Strings||96||-||RCA Victor|
|1963||Honey in the Horn||3||-||RCA Victor|
|1963||Our Man in New Orleans||44||-||RCA Victor|
|1964||Beauty and the Beard||83||-||RCA Victor|
|1964||Sugar Lips||9||-||RCA Victor|
|1964||Cotton Candy||6||-||RCA Victor|
|1965||The Best of Al Hirt||13||-||RCA Victor|
|1965||Live at Carnegie Hall||47||-||RCA Victor|
|1965||That Honey Horn Sound||28||-||RCA Victor|
|1965||They're Playing Our Song||39||-||RCA Victor|
|1966||The Happy Trumpet||125||-||RCA Victor|
|1966||The Horn Meets The Hornet||-||-||RCA Victor|
|1966||Latin in the Horn||-||-||RCA Victor|
|1967||Soul in the Horn||-||-||RCA Victor|
|1967||Music to Watch Girls By||-||-||RCA Victor|
|1968||Al Hirt Plays Bert Kaempfert||116||-||RCA Victor|
|1969||Here in My Heart||-||-||RCA Victor|
|1976||Super Jazz 1||-||-||RCA Victor|
|1988||That's a Plenty||-||9||Pro-Arte Records|
|1989||Cotton Candy||-||12||Pro Jazz Records|
|1989||Jazzin' at the Pops||12||-||Pro Jazz Records|
|1991||Al's Place||-||-||Special Music|
|1991||Raw Sugar, Sweet Sauce||-||-||Monument Records|
|1992||The Sound of Christmas||-||-||RCA Victor|
|1992||Have a Merry Little Christmas||-||-||Special Music|
|1993||Bourbon Street Parade||-||-||Intersound Records|
|1996||Al Hirt & His Golden Trumpet||-||-||Total Recording Records|
|1996||Live on Bourbon Street||-||-||Laserlight Records|
|2000||Music to Watch Girls By||-||-||RCA Victor|
- "Dead Rock Stars Club 1998-1999". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved 9 March 2013.
- Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 160. ISBN 0-214-20512-6.
- "Season 2 Mardi Gras Special". Saturday Night Live Transcripts. Archived from the original on 7 January 2009. Retrieved 21 December 2008.
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