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Al Hirt
Al Hirt 1966-2.jpg
Hirt in 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, U.S.
Died April 27, 1999(1999-04-27) (aged 76)
New Orleans, Louisiana, U.S.
Genres Jazz, Dixieland
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. He is best remembered for his million-selling recordings of "Java" and the accompanying album Honey in the Horn (1963), and for the theme music to The Green Hornet. His nicknames included "Jumbo" and "The Round Mound of Sound". 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, 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 played in the Junior Police Band with friend Roy Fernandez, the son of Alcide Nunez; by the age of 16, Hirt was playing professionally, often with his friend Pete Fountain, while attending Jesuit High School. 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.

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 from January 1966 to September 1969. 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.

New Orleans 1977 - Bourbon Street at St Louis in the French Quarter
Al Hirt club on the corner of Bourbon Street and 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 RCA Victor 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. He also appeared opposite Troy Donahue and Suzanne Pleshette in the 1962 motion picture, Rome Adventure.

In 1965, he hosted the hour-long television variety series Fanfare, which aired on CBS as a summer replacement for Jackie Gleason and the American Scene Magazine.

Hirt starred along with marching bands from the University of Arizona and Grambling State University at the first Super Bowl halftime show in 1967.

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 and received 12 stitches to the underside of his upper lip. Factual documentation of the details of the incident is sparse, consisting primarily of claims made by Hirt after the incident although police reported that the 1970 Mardi Gras was one of the worst for trouble, with hundreds arrested for drunkenness and violence. Whatever the actual cause of his injuries, Hirt underwent surgery and made 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 1987, Hirt played a solo rendition of "Ave Maria" for Pope John Paul II's visit to New Orleans. He is referred to in the 1987 film Good Morning, Vietnam, in a broadcast made by Lieutenant Hauk (Bruno Kirby).

Hirt died of liver failure at the age of 76, after having spent the previous year in a wheelchair due to edema in his leg. He was survived by his wife, Beverly Essel Hirt, and eight children from a previous marriage.



Year Titles (A-side, B-side)
Both sides from same album except where indicated
US Billboard US Cashbox US Adult
Record Label Album
1961 "Janine"
b/w "Elegie"
RCA Victor 7854 Non-album tracks
"I'm On My Way"
b/w "Perky"
RCA Victor 7903 Al's Place
1962 "Al Di La"
b/w "Talkin 'Bout That River"
RCA Victor 8016 Honey In The Horn
"Theme From 'The Eleventh Hour'"
b/w "Song From 'Two For The Seesaw'" (Non-album track)
RCA Victor 8104 Al's Place
1963 "Roman Nocturne"
b/w "Pickin' Cotton" (Non-album track)
RCA Victor 8854
1964 "Java"
b/w "I Can't Get Started"
4 4 1 RCA Victor 8280 Honey In The Horn
"Cotton Candy" / 15 15 3 RCA Victor 8346 Cotton Candy
"Walkin'" 103 134
"Floatin' Down To Cotton Town"
b/w "After You've Gone"
Coral Silver Star 65590 Floatin' Down To Cotton Town
"Sugar Lips"
b/w "Poupee Brisee (Broken Doll)"
30 20 3 RCA Victor 8391 Sugar Lips
"Up Above My Head (I Hear Music in the Air)"
b/w "September Song"
85 94 12 RCA Victor 8439
"Hooray For Santa Claus"
b/w "White Christmas"
RCA Victor 8478 Non-album tracks
1965 "Feelin' Fruggy"
b/w "Louisiana Lullaby"
135 30 RCA Victor 8684
"Fancy Pants"
b/w "Star Dust"
47 37 9 RCA Victor 8487 That Honey Horn Sound
"Al's Place"
b/w "Mister Sandman"
57 67 13 RCA Victor 8543 Al's Place
"The Silence (Il Silenzio)"
b/w "Love Theme from The Sandpiper"
96 129 19 RCA Victor 8653 Non-album tracks
"Nutty Jingle Bells"
b/w "Santa Claus Is Comin' To Town"
RCA Victor 8706 The Sound Of Christmas
1966 "Mame"
b/w "Seven Days To Tahiti"
135 36 RCA Victor 8774 Non-album tracks
"Trumpet Pickin'"
b/w "Skillet Lickin'"
129 27 RCA Victor 8854
"The Arena" / 129 115 28 RCA Victor 8736
"Yesterday" - tag -
"Green Hornet Theme"
b/w "Strawberry Jam" (Non-album track)
126 121 RCA Victor 8925 The Horn Meets "The Hornet"
"The Evil One"
b/w "(Theme From) The Monkees" (from The Horn Meets "The Hornet")
RCA Victor 9023 Non-album track
1967 "Music To Watch Girls By"
b/w "His Girl"
119 31 RCA Victor 9060 Music To Watch Girls By
"Yo-Yo (Puppet Song)"
b/w "Boy Watchers' Theme" (Non-album track)
RCA Victor 9106
"Puppet On A String"
b/w "Big Honey"
129 18 RCA Victor 9198 Non-album tracks
b/w "Honey Pot"
RCA Victor 9285 Soul In The Horn
b/w "Long Gone"
23 RCA Victor 9381
1968 "Keep the Ball Rollin'"
b/w "Manhattan Safari"
100 10 RCA Victor 9417 Al's Place
"We Can Fly/Up-Up and Away"
b/w "The Glory Of Love"
129 23 RCA Victor 9500 Non-album tracks
"The Odd Couple"
b/w "Do You Know the Way to San Jose"
RCA Victor 9539
"The Garbage"
b/w "Those Were the Days"
RCA Victor 9664
1969 "If"
b/w "Penny Arcade"
116 95 16 RCA Victor 9717
"Viva Max March"
b/w "Don't Turn Back"
Both sides with Hugo Montenegro
RCA Victor 0302 Viva Max!
"The Gospel Of No Name City"
b/w "I Still See Elisa"
GWP 516 Paint Your Wagon
1970 "Break My Mind"
b/w "Louisiana Man"
GWP 519 Al Hirt Country
1971 "Orange Blossom Special"
b/w "I Really Don't Want to Know"
GWP 522
1974 "Sweet Sauce"
b/w "Melody For Michelle"
Monument 8619 Raw Sugar/Sweet Sauce/Banana Pudd'n'
1975 "Feuding Pipers"
b/w "Southern Scramble"
Both sides with Boots Randolph
Monument 8652 Non-album tracks
"Monkey Farm"
b/w "The Sound Of Jazz and The Scent Of Jasmine"
Monument 8671 Al Hirt's Jumbo Gumbo


Year Album US Billboard Top 200 Top Jazz Albums Record Label
1962 Al Hirt in New Orleans Coral
1957 Al Hirt and His New Orleans All Stars Southland
1957 Blockbustin' Dixie! Verve
1958 Al Hirt's Jazz Band Ball Verve
1958 Swingin' Dixie at Dan's Pier 600 in New Orleans, Vol. 1 Audio Fidelity
1959 Swingin' Dixie at Dan's Pier 600 in New Orleans, Vol. 2 Audio Fidelity
1960 Swingin' Dixie, Vol. 3 Audio Fidelity
1961 Swingin' Dixie, Vol. 4 Audio Fidelity
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 "Pops" Goes the Trumpet (Holiday for Brass) - RCA Victor
1964 Sugar Lips 9 RCA Victor
1964 Cotton Candy 6 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
1988 That's a Plenty 9 Pro-Arte
1989 Cotton Candy 12 Pro Jazz
1989 Jazzin' at the Pops 12 Pro Jazz
1991 Al's Place Special Music
1991 Raw Sugar, Sweet Sauce Monument
1972 Have a Merry Little Christmas RCA Camden
1993 Bourbon Street Parade Intersound
1996 Al Hirt & His Golden Trumpet Total Recording
1996 Live on Bourbon Street Laserlight

See also

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