Alois Maxwell Hirt or Al Hirt was an American trumpeter, born in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1922. His reputation as a virtuoso on the trumpet rests on his great technical skill as well as his wide range of notes. Since childhood Hirt had been playing with the instrument, becoming a professional trumpeter when he was just 16. Hirt had played at the local horse racing tracks and in the US Army during the Second World War. He attended the Cincinnati Conservatory, studying classical trumpet. He had played with various big swing bands like those led by Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman and Ina Ray Hutton before returning to New Orleans in the late 1940s. He signed to RCA Records and launched his successful recording career. Hirt released 22 best-selling albums, including two that became Top 10 charters on the Billboard Top 200 album listing, Honey in the Horn and Cotton Candy. The biggest hit of his career occurred during the 60s music scene: “Java”, co-written by Allen Toussaint, Alvin Tyler and Freddy Friday. He also played the theme to the 1960s TV show Green Hornet. Apart from the Dixieland style that he was most famously associated with, Hirt also played jazz, pop and swing music genres. Hirt died in 1999 also in his birthplace, New Orleans. He was 76. Full biography of Al Hirt follows below:
Early years of “Jumbo”
“The Round Mound of Sound” and “Jumbo” — these are the two nicknames of Alois Maxwell Hirt who was a legendary American trumpet virtuoso and bandleader. Hirt was born on November 7, 1922 in New Orleans, California. Playing trumpet had been his hobby since he was given one by his policeman father when he was still a child. By the time he reached 16 years old, he had already become a professional trumpet player, performing for some swing bands. Hirt went to Cincinnati Conservatory of Music in 1940 and studied classical trumpet for three years. In 1950, Hirt started touring as a trumpet and featured soloist with Horace Heidt’s Orchestra. After spending several years with Heidt, Hirt went back to his hometown and played for several Dixieland acts. Hirt also recorded few of his masterpieces along with bandleader Monk Hazel for the local label Southernland Records. From the mid-1950s to early 1960s, Hirt and his band played regularly at Dan’s Pier 600 where the owner of the club was his business manager, Dan Levy, Sr. In 1962, he managed his own club on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter until 1983.
Triumph of the trumpeter
The powerful and penetrating tone of Hirt’s trumpet attracted several record labels, but in the end Hirt preferred to sign with RCA Victor. In the 1960’s Hirt also had instrumental pop hits including a cover of Allen Toussaint’s tune “Java” which reached the #4 spot on Billboard charts. In the 1960’s Hirt also had instrumental pop hits including a cover of Allen Toussaint’s tune “Java” which reached the #4 spot on Billboard charts and eventually won a Grammy award. We’re sure oldies music fans remember and love this number
Hirt’s first two albums, Honey in the Horn and Cotton Candy both made the Top 10 best sellers list in 1964. Hirt’s Top 40 hit “Sugar Lips” was later used as the theme song for the NBC daytime game show Eye Guess. Two years later, he was chosen to perform the theme for the TV series The Green Hornet theme (that also appeared in the 2003 film Kill Bill). Certainly, Alois Maxwell Hirt became a household name way back then. Under RCA, Hirt released roughly thirty albums.
Hirt’s later career and final years
Hirt underwent surgery after the Mardi Gras parade incident that happened on February 8, 1970. Spectators believed that Hirt was thrown by a concrete or a brick while performing in one of the floats. Eventually, he slowly recovered and was ready to hit the clubs again. The aging Hirt was privileged to play a solo rendition of “Ave Maria” when Pope John Paul II visited New Orleans in 1987. In 1999, Hirt died of liver failure, in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1999. He was 76.