Al Hirt, 76, trumpeter, won Grammy award


Al Hirt, 76, the portly Dixieland jazz trumpeter who was a symbol of the exuberant laissez-faire way of life of New Orleans, died yesterday at his New Orleans home.

Mr. Hirt had been hospitalized until last week with liver ailments, said his personal assistant, Peggy Stegman.

One of the nation's most recognizable performers in the 1960s, Mr. Hirt recorded 55 albums in his career and won a Grammy award in 1963 for the song "Java."

Mr. Hirt was a ubiquitous figure in his hometown. He had roles in several motion pictures, was a minority owner in the Saints football team and ran a popular club on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter for 22 years. The club closed in 1983.

Alois Maxwell Hirt was born Nov. 7, 1922, in New Orleans, the son of a police officer. A child prodigy, he got his first trumpet from a pawnshop at age 6 and played his first gig in 1938 when he was hired to blow the horn at a local racetrack.

He attended Cincinnati Conservatory of Music from 1940 to 1943 and, after a three-year stint in the Army, started his career, touring with big bands.

In 1960, he signed with RCA Records, which released his first album the next year. His most popular albums included "Greatest Horn," "He's the King" and "Bourbon Street." He also had a pop single hit with "Cotton Candy."

Mr. Hirt, who was often called the "Round Mound of Sound," was adept at many musical genres. He was sometimes derided by critics and jazz purists for injecting rock into jazz numbers and pandering to mass tastes.

He often responded by saying he was nothing more than a crowd-pleaser. "I'm a pop commercial musician," he said in a New York Times interview in 1984. "I'm not a jazz trumpet, and never was a jazz trumpet. When I played in big bands I played first trumpet. I led the trumpet section. I never played jazz or improvised."

Pub Date: 4/28/99

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