Alois Maxwell Hirt was born November 7, 1922 in New Orleans, Louisiana. He was 6 years old when he got his first trumpet from a pawnshop, and it proved to be a life-long love affair. Al's first professional gig, at the age of 17, was calling the horses to the post at the Louisiana Fairgrounds in 1939. He studied classical trumpet at the Cincinnati Conservatory until entering the US Army, where he spent much of his time playing with the 82nd Army Air Force Band. Upon his discharge, he freelanced in swing bands led by Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Ray McKinley, Benny Goodman and Horace Heidt, but returned to New Orleans in the early 50's and formed his own band, soon becoming the house band for Dan Levy's Pier 600 Club.
Starting around 1955 he sometimes teamed with Pete Fountain (clarinet) and by 1960 signed with RCA records and made quite a name for himself. During this decade he had several "pop" hits such as Cotton Candy and Java which introduced him to the "mainstream" public. His many accompishments include a 1965 standing room only concert at Carnegie Hall and a Grammy for the recording Java. He also played at the inaguration of president John F. Kennedy. Playing concerts across the country, his sets included Latin, pop, jazz, and classical works as well as Dixieland numbers.
Al recorded more than 50 albums in his career, and played for millions of people around the world including Pope John Paul II and 8 U.S. Presidents. He earned 4 gold albums and 1 platinum.
Some of the awards won by Al Hirt are:
World's Top Trumpeter (15 different years) by Playboy magazine
Artist of the Year by the Music Operators of America
Lifetime Achievement Award from the Charlie "Bird" Parker Memorial Foundation
He also appeared in several films:
1962 Rome Adventure
1964 Fanfare For A Death Scene
1965 Electric Showcase
1967 What Am I Bid?
1969 Number One
1988 Sass and Brass: A Jazz Session
1990 New Orleans Jazz Brunch He appeared on an episode of "Touched By An Angel" on CBS television during the '96-'97 season, and hosted his own television program, "Fanfare", in 1965.
Some other facts about Al Hirt:
Al headlined the half-time show at the first Superbowl game in 1967. He appeared in a total of 5 Superbowl programs.
When Pope John Paul II visited New Orleans in 1987, Al played Handel's "Ave Maria" for him.
Sadly, Al Hirt died April 27, 1999 at the age of 76. He will be missed by fans all over the world. How lucky we are to have so much great music recorded by the man with the golden horn.