Al Hirt

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Al Hirt
Al Hirt (1966).jpg
Al Hirt (1966)
Background information
Birth name Alois Maxwell Hirt
Also known as
  • Jumbo
  • The Round Mound of Sound
Born (1922-11-07)November 7, 1922
New Orleans, Louisiana, US
Died April 27, 1999(1999-04-27) (aged 76)
New Orleans, Louisiana, US
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, bandleader
Instruments Trumpet
Labels Monument, RCA Victor

Alois Maxwell "Al" Hirt (November 7, 1922 – April 27, 1999) was an American trumpeter and bandleader.[1] 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".[1] Colin Escott, an author of musician biographies, wrote that RCA Victor Records, for which Hirt had recorded most of his best-selling recordings and for which he had spent much of his professional recording career, had dubbed him with another moniker: "The King." Hirt was inducted into The Louisiana Music Hall of Fame in November 2009.


Hirt was born in New Orleans, Louisiana,[1] 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.[2]

Hirt's Top 40 charted hit "Sugar Lips" in 1964 would be later used as the theme song for the NBC daytime game show Eye Guess, hosted by Bill Cullen and originally airing during the mid-to-late 1960s.

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.

Al Hirt - Bourbon Street at St Louis in the French Quarter, 1977

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".[3]

In 1987, Hirt played a solo rendition of "Ave Maria" for Pope John Paul II's visit to New Orleans.

In 1999, Hirt died, aged 76, in New Orleans of liver failure,[1] 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. In 1990 he married Beverly Estabrook Essel, a friend of 40 years.

He is referred to in the 1987 film Good Morning, Vietnam, in a broadcast made by Lieutenant Hauk (Bruno Kirby).



Year Name US Billboard Chart CB Pop US Adult Contemporary Record Label A-Side/B-Side Album
1964 "Java" 4 4 1 RCA Victor 8280 B-Side: "I Can't Get Started" Honey in the Horn
"Cotton Candy" 15 15 3 RCA Victor 8346 B-Side: "Walkin'" Cotton Candy
"Walkin'" 103 134 RCA Victor 8346 A-Side: "Cotton Candy" Cotton Candy
"Sugar Lips" 30 20 3 RCA Victor 8391 B-Side: "Poupee Brisee (Broken Doll)" Sugar Lips
"Up Above My Head (I Hear Music in the Air)" 85 94 12 RCA Victor 8439 A-Side: "September Song" Sugar Lips
1965 "Feelin' Fruggy" 135 30 RCA Victor 8684 B-Side: "Louisiana Lullaby"
"Fancy Pants" 47 37 9 RCA Victor 8487 B-Side: "Star Dust" That Honey Horn Sound
"Al's Place" 57 67 13 RCA Victor 8543 B-Side: "Mister Sandman"
"The Silence (Il Silenzio)" 96 129 19 RCA Victor 8653 B-Side: "Love Theme from The Sandpiper"
1966 "Mame" 135 36 RCA Victor 8774 B-Side: "Seven Days To Tahiti"
"Trumpet Pickin'" 129 27 RCA Victor 8854 B-Side: "Skillet Lickin'"
"The Arena" 129 115 28 RCA Victor 8736 A-Side: "Yesterday"
"Yesterday" - tag - RCA Victor 8736 B-Side: "The Arena"
"Green Hornet Theme" 126 121 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 RCA Victor 9500
1969 "If" 116 95 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 Records
1957 Al Hirt and His New Orleans All Stars Southland Records
1957 Blockbustin' Dixie! Verve Records
1958 Al Hirt's Jazz Band Ball Verve Records
1958 Swingin' Dixie at Dan's Pier 600 in New Orleans, Vol. 1 Audio Fidelity Records
1959 Swingin' Dixie at Dan's Pier 600 in New Orleans, Vol. 2 Audio Fidelity Records
1960 Swingin' Dixie, Vol. 3 Audio Fidelity Records
1961 Swingin' Dixie, Vol. 4 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
1963 Personalities RCA Victor
1964 Beauty and the Beard 83 RCA Victor
1964 "Pops" Goes The Trumpet (Holiday For Brass) - RCA Victor
1964 Sugar Lips 9 RCA Victor
1964 Cotton Candy 6 RCA Victor
1965 The Best of Al Hirt 13 RCA Victor
1965 The Sound of Christmas 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 Struttin' Down Royal Street RCA Victor
1967 Music to Watch Girls By RCA Victor
1968 Al Hirt Plays Bert Kaempfert 116 RCA Victor
1968 "In Love With You" RCA Victor
1968 "Al Hirt Now!" RCA Victor
1968 "Unforgettable" RCA Victor
1969 Here in My Heart RCA Victor
1976 Super Jazz 1 RCA Victor
1988 All-Time Greatest Hits - 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


  1. ^ a b c d "Dead Rock Stars Club 1998–1999". The Dead Rock Stars Club. Retrieved March 9, 2013. 
  2. ^ Murrells, Joseph (1978). The Book of Golden Discs (2nd ed.). London: Barrie and Jenkins Ltd. p. 160. ISBN 0-214-20512-6. 
  3. ^ "Season 2 Mardi Gras Special". Saturday Night Live Transcripts. Archived from the original on January 7, 2009. Retrieved December 21, 2008. 

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