Al Hirt (7 Nov. 1922-27 Apr. 1999)
jazz musician, was born Alois Maxwell Hirt in New Orleans, Louisiana, the son of Alois Hirt, a policeman, and Linda Guepet Hirt. According to family lore, the elder Hirt bought his six-year-old son a trumpet at a neighborhood pawnshop. When the mouthpiece stuck, the father tried to fix it by closing a door on it, causing a slight air leak. Young Al had to blow all the harder to play, but he kept at it, gaining power as well as skill. Local teachers encouraged his obvious talent, and soon he was playing in a junior band sponsored by the police department. Over the years he played a wide repertoire with various school ensembles and seemed destined for a career in music. Although jazz would have been a natural choice--New Orleans was a leading center for the genre--Hirt was encouraged to seek training in traditional forms of music, and during his teens he studied the classical trumpet literature with members of the music faculty at Loyola University in New Orleans.
Following Hirt's graduation from high school in 1940, he entered the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music on a classical music scholarship. He joined both the conservatory's symphony orchestra and the symphonic band, playing first trumpet in the orchestra and serving as cornet soloist in the band. During this time, he also soloed with the New Orleans and Cincinnati symphonies. In his spare time, Hirt taught himself pop and jazz standards by listening to radio broadcasts and recordings of famous trumpeters of the day, including Harry James and Roy Eldridge. By the end of his second year at the conservatory, Hirt was making money on the side as a jazz musician.
In the late summer of 1942, Hirt married Mary Patureau, whom he had known in high school. The United States was now engaged in World War II, and in the fall of 1942 Hirt enlisted in the army. He spent much of the next four years in Europe, playing with the Eighty-second Army Air Force Band. By the time of his discharge in 1946, he had a growing family to support--the couple eventually had eight children--and he decided to forgo symphonic music in favor of a more lucrative career as a big-band musician. Hirt quickly found employment with some of the biggest names in the business, touring the country successively with the likes of the bandleaders Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Ray McKinley, and Tony Pastor. A small milestone in Hirt's career occurred in 1949, when he was a prizewinner on the weekly Philip Morris Talent Contest radio show; as a consequence he was invited to play with the bandleader Horace Heidt on Heidt's own radio show, and Hirt toured the United States and Europe with Heidt and his band.