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Blowing one of the most potent horns since the Biblical Joshua led a septet outside Jericho, the late Al Hirt (1922-1999) has left us with a trumpet legacy characterized by a singular blend of power and precision. A master of myriad styles, Hirt defied categorization and was as much at home recording a hit pop song as he was restyling a standard or blowing hot Dixieland. With a physical stature and "look that was as commanding as his sound; "Jumbo had an incredible stage presence that redefined the trumpeter led orchestra.
Hirt could have been born nowhere else but New Orleans, and that city's trumpet heritage had a clear influence on his early development. As a six year old, a pawn shop trumpet became his obsession and he quickly took advantage of his hometown's ever present music scene. Early "gigs included playing in a youth band with the children of famed New Orleans clarinetist Yellow Nunez, and calling the horses to the post at the Louisiana Fairgrounds. It wasn't long, however, before Al made his way to the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music where he acquired his classical musician's profound technical sense and exquisite tonal accuracy. Stints with the likes of the Dorsey brothers and Benny Goodman left their mark, and Hirt could certainly swing with the best of them.
It is no surprise that during the 1960s his blend of showmanship and musical ability found its way onto television where Hirt delighted audiences on variety programs like the Ed Sullivan Show. As down to earth in reality as his projected onstage persona, Hirt opened a popular New Orleans nightclub where he held court for decades, continuing the long line of that city's trumpet kings. It was there that Hirt would give another New Orleans six year old his first horn in order to amuse the youngster so the boy's father, Ellis Marsalis, could concentrate on playing piano. Wynton has of course made good use of that horn given to him by "King Al.
An international star, whose highlights are many, Hirt trumpeted Ave Maria for the Pope and was Playboy magazine's number one trumpeter an astonishing 15 times. He played the Super Bowl's first halftime show and garnered a platinum album to go with his four gold LPs. Million selling albums showcased tunes like "Java that became trumpet repertoire classics. Hirt clearly had a great appreciation for those special tunes that lend themselves especially well to the trumpet. Pieces that are forever linked with trumpet virtuosity, like his own "Java , are reinterpreted in this new collection, aptly named Al Hirt: King of Bourbon Street, with that unique Hirt style that combines classical correctness with blinding speed and awesome energy. The fitting opener is a combination of the great standard "Stardust and "Man with a Horn , originally written for trombone, but now a trumpeter's delight. Hirt's horn sweetly interprets these familiar melodies before he revisits his own masterpiece "Java . Ellington's "Boy Meets Horn , most associated with the Duke's trumpeter Rex Stewart, is given two separate treatments, each deftly presenting Stewart's unique "half-valve technique à la Hirt.
Benny Goodman's version of "And the Angel's Sing with Ziggy Ellman's famous "Freilach in Swing trumpet break allows Hirt to combine swing with klezmer, while adding in some of his own Dixieland for good measure. The delightful comedic bounce of Louis Prima's signature piece, "Oh Marie, Marie follows. Hirt adds a touch more swing and powerful arpeggio to make the song his own. In 1924, Paul Whiteman's orchestra debuted Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue and this landmark piece of music with its classical/jazz fusion is tailored made for Al's horn. An admirer of Whiteman's trumpet player, Henry Busse Sr., Hirt's rendition is true to the original's spirit and is the perfect forum for Al's own brand of classically inspired jazz.
It is difficult to think of anyone but Maynard Ferguson blasting out the theme from the motion picture Rocky but Al's inspiring "Gonna Fly Now is likewise a knockout. His dynamic style meshes well with this rockin' arrangement that features a searing electric guitar. In the 1950s, British hornman Eddie Calvert had a big hit with his poignantly sentimental instrumental "Oh Mein Papa . A decade later, Bert Kaempfert used trumpeter Charlie Tabor and an exquisite arrangement to update the song's feel and strike with another classic, "Wonderful by Night . Al kicks his medley of the two off with a striking intro before he perceptively presents the Kaempfert classic followed by its predecessor.
When Harry James recorded the 19th century song "Ciribiribin , a new standard was set for horn showcase pieces. Hirt's adaptation swings and evidences that the big man's horn has no problem ripping through the difficult triple time sections while never losing sight of the melody. Like Al, Dizzy Gillespie is in a class of his own when it comes to that combination of flair and talent. The story goes that when the two shared a stage with Maynard Ferguson, Dizzy asked Al not to blow him off the stage. That being said, Al's "A Night in Tunisia begins with an enticing rhythm line over which Al proceeds to imbue the delicate melody with his own seductively graceful line. He then lets out an explosion of bop that blows everyone away and makes the tune archetypal Hirt. "Gospel of No Name City , from Al's complete recording of the Paint Your Wagon film soundtrack, is a great example of Al's ability to meld his horn with choral backing to make great pop. Both "Tenderly and "After You've Gone have been recorded by just about everyone. With the former, Al highlights the endearing ballad's melody with nimble pyrotechnics while the latter takes heed from drummer Gene Krupa's band where the great Roy Eldridge trumpeted his stuff. Complete with a 1940s WWII opener, Hirt solidly swings it with a dash of Dixieland. As you listen to Bourbon Street King I am sure that you will see why the entertainment world lovingly remembers Al "He's the King Hirt as the big man with the even bigger sound.
Tracks: Stardust/Man With A Horn; Java; Boy Meets Horn; And The Angels Sing; Oh Marie, Marie; Rhapsody In Blue; Gonna Fly Now; Oh Mein Papa/Wonderful By Night; Ciribiribin; A Night In Tunisia; Boy Meets Horn Reprise; Tenderly; Gospel Of No Name City; After You've Gone.
Track Listing: Stardust/Man With A Horn; Java; Boy Meets Horn; And The Angels Sing; Oh Marie, Marie;
Rhapsody In Blue; Gonna Fly Now; Oh Mein Papa/Wonderful By Night; Ciribiribin; A Night
In Tunisia; Boy Meets Horn Reprise; Tenderly; Gospel Of No Name City; After You've Gone.
I love jazz because anything is possible; it has few rules and the best jazz breaks those ones. I prefer free improv because it doesn't really have any rules at all.
I was first exposed to jazz in my teens (in the late sixties).
The first jazz record I bought was Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis, shortly followed by Extrapolation by John McLaughlin.
My advice to new listeners is to listen as widely as possible and not to make snap judgments--stick with it.