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Hirt, Al (7th November 1922-27th April 1999)

He was a bandleader and trumpeter born Alois Maxwell Hirt in New Orleans.  He learned to play the trumpet after receiving his first one when he was six years old and as he father was a police officer he went on to play in the Junior Police Band.

Teaming up with his friend, the clarinettist Pete Fountain, they were playing together professionally by the time he was sixteen at various New Orleans venues including the horse racetrack.  When he was eighteen he took further studies at the Cincinnati Conservatory in 1940 and when WWII came along the U.S. Army gave him the post of bugler.

After completion of his service his career really took off and he was heard with the orchestras and bands of Benny Goodman, Horace Heidt, Monk Hazel and Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey among many others.  After returning to New Orleans in the early 1950s he led several of his own bands, such as the Dixieland Six, as well as working with others and it was in these years that he was beginning to receive recognition from record labels.

His success in the recording industry saw him receive a Grammy Award and hit single for “Java” and the 1950s and 1960s saw him with 22 albums appearing on the Billboard charts.  Seen as carrying on the New Orleans tradition of jazz trumpeters, he always denied that this was his main genre and is known to have said “I’m not a jazz trumpet and never was a jazz trumpet.”

Often being heard in the movies and on TV theme tunes, his work was featured on such programmes as The Green Hornet and Eye Guess and in films that include Kill Bill, Brown Sugar, Number One and Fanfare for a Death Scene.  Investing in his own community, he would contribute to the New Orleans Saints as a minority holder and also established a club in the French Quarter’s Bourbon Street, which he ran until 1983.

Sadly in 1970 there was an accident on a float he was on at the Mardi Gras where his mouth was injured.  Surgery ensued, but with a long convalescence he gradually made a return to playing and this would later lead to what he deems his most important performance when he played for “Ave Maria” for Pope John Paul II during his visit to New Orleans in 1987.  Wheelchair bound from 1998, he died of liver failure, in 1999 aged 76.

Here he is performing his hit song “Java”…