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 song 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 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.
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.
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. 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 the University of Arizona marching band 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. 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 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 six 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
|–||–||–||RCA Victor 7854||Non-album tracks|
|"I'm On My Way"
|–||–||–||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|
b/w "Pickin' Cotton" (Non-album track)
|–||–||–||RCA Victor 8854|
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|
|"Floatin' Down To Cotton Town"
b/w "After You've Gone"
|–||–||–||Coral Silver Star 65590||Floatin' Down To Cotton Town|
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|
b/w "Louisiana Lullaby"
|–||135||30||RCA Victor 8684|
b/w "Star Dust"
|47||37||9||RCA Victor 8487||That Honey Horn Sound|
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|
b/w "Seven Days To Tahiti"
|–||135||36||RCA Victor 8774||Non-album tracks|
b/w "Skillet Lickin'"
|–||129||27||RCA Victor 8854|
|"The Arena" /||129||115||28||RCA Victor 8736|
|"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|
b/w "Those Were The Days"
|–||–||–||RCA Victor 9664|
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"
b/w "Melody For Michelle"
|–||–||–||Monument 8619||Raw Sugar/Sweet Sauce/Banana Pudd'n'|
b/w "Southern Scramble"
Both sides with Boots Randolph
|–||–||–||Monument 8652||Non-album tracks|
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|
|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|
|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|
|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|
|1972||Have a Merry Little Christmas||–||–||RCA Camden|
|1993||Bourbon Street Parade||–||–||Intersound Records|
|1996||Al Hirt & His Golden Trumpet||–||–||Total Recording Records|
|1996||Live on Bourbon Street||–||–||Laserlight Records|