[Dixielandjazz] Al Hirt - Bio - "Jazz Musician or Pop Player?

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Wed Jan 24 13:27:49 PST 2007

I am surprised no one picked up on the Al Hirt quote a few posts ago. What
did he think? See the last paragraph of this Bio for the full quote.

Just goes to show what taking things out of context can do. BTW, he
considered his solo "Ave Maria" for Pope John Paul II during the Pope's
visit to New Orleans as his most important work.

Steve Barbone 


  Alois Maxwell Hirt (New Orleans, 1922 - 1999), subject of the 2000 New
Orleans Jazz Festival poster by George Rodrigue, got his first trumpet from
a pawn shop when he was six. By 17, he was calling the horses to post at the
same Fairgrounds where he was to play many New Orleans Jazz & Heritage
Festivals and, 60 years and one racing season later, have a Jazz Funeral
held in his honor.

  Trained in classical music at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, he
played in the 82nd Army Air Force Band before joining the great swing bands
led by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Ray McKinley and Benny Goodman. He returned
to New Orleans in the early 50's, forming his own band with Pete Fountain
(subject of Rodrigue's 1996 New Orleans Jazz Festival poster) with whom he
worked as an exterminator; killing pests together by day and playing music
together at night. Whomever got the gig was the leader that night and
entitled to wear a bow tie on stage. They played together on and off for
more than 50 years, with their bands touring jointly every summer until Al's
health began to fail in 1998.

  He came to national prominence in 1960 when his Dixieland Six played Las
Vegas. Every bit the showman, the 6-foot-2-inch 300-pounder, nicknamed
"Jumbo", caught the attention of Dinah Shore, beginning a TV career that
spanned 28 years. That year, Hirt signed with RCA records, ultimately
recording more than 50 albums, four of which went gold and one, platinum.
Hirt's "pop" hit singles include Cotton Candy and Java, for which he won a
Grammy for best non-jazz instrumental in 1964.

  He garnered 21 Grammy nominations; played at the inauguration of President
John F. Kennedy (one of eight U.S. Presidents for whom he performed); toured
the world, including a 1965 standing room only concert at Carnegie Hall;
headlined the half-time show at the first Super Bowl in 1967, one of 5 Super
Bowl programs which included him; and was voted World's Top Trumpeter for 15
consecutive years in the Playboy Jazz Poll beginning in 1962. In 1987, Hirt
played a trumpet solo of Handel's "Ave Maria" for Pope John Paul II during
the Pontiff's visit to New Orleans, a performance he considered one of his
most important. Between 1962 and 1990, he appeared in seven films and
headlined on numerous television shows, including his own program, "Fanfare"
on CBS in 1965.

  In his obituary by Associated Press writer Kent Prince, Hirt's talent was
summarized as follows: "His driving power, packed with dazzling virtuosity,
seemed to blow the curtains at the back of the auditorium, but when the
tempo slowed, the honey-toned melodies flowed with a style all his own."
Pete Fountain added "He had everything-technique, stamina, education." Hirt
acknowledged being influenced by Louis Armstrong, Harry James and Frank
Sinatra. Armstrong (subject of the 1995 Jazz Festival poster by Rodrigue),
always made an effort to catch Jumbo's performances whenever their touring
paths crossed.

  Hirt, who stayed close to home so he could fish and be with his wife and
eight children, summed up his own career, "I'm a pop commercial musician,
and I've got a successful format. If you have the ability to perform your
musical idea, you become a good jazz player. Any performer can think of a
musical idea. Only a well-schooled artist can produce the idea on his horn."
This advice for budding musicians adds to the legacy that this legendary
virtuoso leaves behind.

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