Al Hirt on Audio Fidelity

OK - forget "Java" and "Cotton Candy" and "The Man with the Horn", those songs made Al Hirt famous - these songs made him work. In the late 50's Sid Frey recorded four albums with the up-and-coming Al Hirt for Audio Fidelity. Be advised that these recordings are not for the purist. Hirt took a lot of flak from "the old folk", because he was a classically-trained trumpeter playing New Orleans jazz , and most of these recordings are less ensemble and more lead player. Hirt shows his amazing technique throughout, and the only musician who could go lip-to-lip with him was his trombonist, Bob Havens.

These recordings were made when Hirt and his band were playing at Dan's Pier 600. Hirt eventually bought and sold his own club. Until his health failed, he could be found working occasionally across the street at Chris Owens' strip joint.

Personnel : Al Hirt - Trumpet
Harold Cooper - Clarinet
Bob Havens - Trombone
Ronnie DuPont - Piano
Bob Coquille - Bass
Paul Edwards - Drums
Selection One: Look Down That Lonesome Road is an old spiritual that we need to start  this session. It shows the ensemble-talent of the group, and the lyrical tone Hirt has. Bob Havens comes through with a nice sweet solo before Al takes the plunger to it. He comes out clean for the rideout. All in all - rather subdued. Thought this was a good one to break you in.

Listen to Look Down That Lonesome Road - (Real Audio - 3:06)

Selection Two: And the Angels Sing was a staple of the Benny Goodman orchestra, with the late Ziggy Elman doing the honors on the "Froleich" chorus - which Hirt performs flawlessly here. This is an unabashed trumpet show-off tune, so get over it.

Listen to And the Angels Sing - (Real Audio - 2:28)

Selection Three: OK, OK, OK - it's time to see if there are *other* musicians in the band. Moonglow is a nice piece for Bob Havens, who glides us through the calm waters of lower delta tranquility with his smooth trombone. This was also a staple of the Lionel Hampton/Benny Goodman association of the 30's and 40's.

Listen to Moonglow - (Real Audio - 2:00)

Selection Four: Shine is a nice little tune. Nobody gets hurt in the playing of it, so it should go down smooth. Just a nice testimonial to the good soloists - until after the trombone solo. Then Al takes the band on a techno-follow-me which ends in a great trumpet stabbing.

Listen to Shine - (Real Audio - 2:46)

Selection Five: I've been waiting for Hindustan. It opens with those breakneck tom-toms of Edward's and that nice, quiet understated Cooper clarinet. Then all Hell breaks loose. Bob Havens slides us through another classic t-bone solo, and passes the ball to Al - who shows us that a lip-trill can be a controlled orgasm. Harold Cooper tries to nail their feet to the floor, but it ain't gonna happen, 'cause he loses it four bars in. Ronnie DuPont plays some pretty, pretty chords - then the boys slide into a "shuffle" rhythm, until Al sings, "Is It True What They Say About Dixie" - then the floor caves in. A couple of stop-time breaks, and they're outta here! Listen to that trumpet at the end - is there a breath in there??? These guys should be fined for reckless driving on this one!!

Listen to Hindustan - (Real Audio - 5:18)

Selection Six: Floatin' Down To Cottontown is a remembrance to the old riverboat days, where jazz bands would cruise the river from New Orleans to Chicago and make their fortunes (or lose them). It's just a nice little song that showcases the talent of this group - listen to the beginning of Al's solo. Bob Havens shows up to play his equal - then Ronnie cools it down  with some superb playing. Then that "shuffle" sound is back - haven't heard it done this well before or since.

Listen to Floatin' Down to Cottontown - (Real Audio - 3:26)

Selection Seven: This one will kill you. I have heard Tiger Rag all my life, and I have yet to hear a trombone player who sounded like a tiger. Waiting's over! This tune opens up full-steam-ahead and is a showpiece for Bob Havens, who takes it to the bank. After the rousing verse and chorus (hear that tiger's roar?) he solos with absolute perfection. This is the one time I can tell the critics of Al's classical training to kiss my ass. I'd love to watch the old folk try to play these notes at this tempo. It's a show-tune, I'll grant you - but an absolutely flawless one! This tune kicks some major ass! And Bob Havens leading the parade home at the end is a true heart-stopper! When he played this number at Al's club in New Orleans, he'd play the last chorus lying on his back, working the trombone's slide with his foot!

Listen to Tiger Rag - (Real Audio - 3:28)

Selection Eight: After You've Gone opens with an incredible "fly" trumpet - followed by the nice ensemble and solos expected from this group. After the drum solo - the gang is back, with Al leading the charge towards the last roundup. By the time the drummer hits the hi-hat cymbal, the guys are free-falling onto nice slow blues-cushion ending.

Listen to After You've Gone - (Real Audio - 3:32)

Selection Nine: Caravan was written by Juan Tijol - a valve trombone player once with the Duke Ellington orchestra. Edwards' tom-toms again set the stage for this nice little romp. The dynamics are great as we alternate between the minor keys of the melody and the nice Dixieland romp following each verse. Bob Havens' trombone nicely sets up big Al's dramatic solo wherein he throws everything but the cat at us. He and Paul Edwards' drums make a nice rhythmic pairing. Al leads us to the brink (does he ever breathe?), then pushes us over, while the rest of the guys jump in to scoot us to the end in style.

Listen to Caravan - (Real Audio - 6:26)

Selection Ten: Memories of You is a nice change of pace from the blood-vessel breaking tunes we just heard. Nice, melodic - good ensemble - nice trumpet work, nice solos. Think I'll just sit back and

Listen to Memories of You - (Real Audio - 4:26)

Selection Eleven: Ain't Misbehavin' is a classic Fats Waller tune done in a nice slow groove here. Al's horn is almost like a voice as the boys put this one on the mantel, bringing it to a nice, smooth close.

Listen to Ain't Misbehavin' - (Real Audio - 3:40)

Selection Twelve: The Farewell Blues was also covered by the George Girard/Tony Almerico group in the New Orleans Jazz Clubs section, but since the bands are totally different, so is the sound. This one is up-tempo (surprised?), and has a great feel thanks to Paul Edwards' tom-toms and Bob Havens' trombone harmonies, not to mention Al's slickly perfect solo. The dynamics are at play again here - first the band is a quiet as a whisper, then the tiles are coming off the roof.

Listen to the Farewell Blues - (Real Audio - 2:35)

Selection Thirteen: I started not to include South in this collection - but I couldn't resist the chords Ronnie DuPont plays on the piano, as well as the inventive solos by the front three. This is such an old chestnut, covered by everyone and his brother - but these guys seem to be able to slap another fresh coat of paint on it. Love that front-three tag at the end.

Listen to South - (Real Audio - 3:02)

Selection Fourteen: Deep River sounds nothing like the old spiritual. Edwards' opens up with that high-hat cymbal, and the guys take it quickly down the road from there. Harold Cooper is so quiet - and Bob Havens is so slick - then Al decides to use that "fly" trumpet of his - thank God for a drum solo to cool things down. Or does it? Afterwards, that cute little shuffle which is a trademark of Hirt's groups. A few key changes later, and we're still rolling! Each time up another key and another level of frenzy.

Listen to Deep River - (Real Audio - 3:21)

Selection Fifteen: Oh my God! Bill Bailey? The devil made me do it! Especially when I got past that lame beginning and heard litle Harold Cooper play his clarinet solo - he leans back and takes the paint off with this one - and for that, we have to hear it! Bob's trombone is smooth as usual, and Al punches us onto the next line. The group dynamics is smoooooth. Everyone gets one bar at then end before the final sermon is preached!

Listen to Bill Bailey - (Real Audio - 3:34)

Selection Sixteen: Bourbon Street has always been a trombone showcase. Bob Havens doesn't disappoint here, as we begin with the usual follow-the-leader. You gotta love the sound on the chorus. Havens is so smooth and in control here. Listen to his pairing with Paul Edwards' cymbal. The obligatory trombone-led parade ends the number.

Listen to Bourbon Street - (Real Audio - 4:46)

Selection Seventeen: This one should be entitled the song of big lungs! High Society has also been covered in the Jazz Clubs section, but Al and the guys do a different number again. It all starts out the same - nice chorus with Bob Havens doing a great hovering harmony. The thing about Al Hirt is that you can always count on him to play every note perfectly - leaving out none. You wanna hear the melody? You got the melody!! Harold does the obligatory Picou chorus, and Ronnie glides a nice piano solo - and Al takes and holds a note for 14 bars!!!!!! I have watched this guy do this, and there ain't no circle-breathing going on here!!!

Listen to High Society -  (Real Audio - 3:52)

Selection Eighteen: Up A Lazy River is a nice little Hoagey Carmicheal tune which drops into a nice smooth groove from the beginning. Despite a mid-song tempo-shift, the boys stay with this one until the drinking lamp is lit.

Listen to Up A Lazy River - (Real Audio - 2:52)

Selection Nineteen: We all know about Mack the Knife. This version is silky smooth and very melodic. Ronnie DuPont virtually attacks his piano in this one - I think he found his groove. Al and Bob take the follow-the-leader rideout quite impressively. As I said earlier, Bob could go lip-to-lip with Al anytime, anyplace!

Listen to Mack the Knife - (Real Audio - 2:28)

Selection Twenty: The Original Dixieland One-Step was written by Nick LaRocca of the Original Dixieland Jazz Band in the 1920's. The reason you are hearing it is because of the musicianship that starts in the chorus. After that, Bob takes the trombone on a nice Sunday drive - after the bass solo, the guys jump back in the car for a ramble. Bob leads Al on a chase - lip-to-lip! Listen to them go!! Good stuff!!!!

Listen to The Original Dixieland One-Step - (Real Audio - 3:33)

Selection Twenty-one: The South Rampart Street Parade is a Mardi Gras classic, this time livened up by Al's "shuffle" style of rhythm. The groups dynamics are great in the verse. You want melody? You got melody! The boy never misses a note!

Listen to South Rampart Street Parade - (Real Audio - 3:44)

Selection Twenty-two: Sweet Georgia Brown is done at a breakneck speed, but more importantly, the technical side of the musicians is showcased. They pull some unison verses interspersed with Paul Edwards' drums - then Edwards takes a solo which brings the beat waaaaaaaaaaaaay down - holds it there and has a good time playing with it. When he is ready to let the rest of the guys join in, he comes back with a vengeance - double-time from the original!! Hold onto your seats as the guys sky-dive through this one!

Listen to Sweet Georgia Brown -  (Real Audio - 3:34)

Selection Twenty-three: OK - you don't believe it, and I don't either. They are doing a cover of George Shearing's Lullaby of Birdland, and you know what? It works!! I'll just hang back and let you listen to this one. Despite being New Orleans jazz players, they can find this groove very well. The standout is a surprising Ronnie DuPont, who tears that piano apart. He must be remembering Benny Goodman's 1938 Carnegie Hall concert (if you don't get that one, e-mail Jake and he'll tell you).

Listen to Lullaby of Birdland - (Real Audio - 3:42)

Selection Twenty-four: Chicago is a nice example of this band's "shuffle" style of playing. Good solos for everyone and a nice "stabbbing" ending. Coolness...

Listen to Chicago - (Real Audio - 3:33)

Selection Twenty-five: The Darktown Strutter's Ball is an example of classic Dixieland - the front line, the backbeat from the drummer, and the tailgate trombone. This is an oldie, but the guys turn it into a smooth-as-silk rendition. Gotta love that rideout!

Listen to the Darktown Strutter's Ball - (Real Audio - 3:10)

Selection Twenty-six: The Feet Draggin' Blues is exactly what you want to hear - a nice, slow, gonad-driven blues tune. Tight harmonies from the fron three - wailing clarinet punctuating just the right spots - tailgate trombone holding it all together from the bottom. DuPont's piano has some great transitional chords - almost major sevenths, but God forbid he'd be accused of that!!! Then Harold and his quiet clarinet - the last time I saw him, he was walking alone up Canal Street from a gig at Al's club with the Dukes. Just walking alone quickly, his case uner his arm. The last chorus Al decides to wail, and end in an classic style.

Listen to Feet Draggin' Blues - (Real Audio - 4:14)

Selection Twenty-seven: The Wabash Blues is another great wailing blues tunes. Just listen and you'll see what I mean - the front line is driving straight through as usual. Al takes the growling plunger to the table, followed by a clean and slick one by Bob Havens - the DuPont piano is once again a charmer. The front line outdo themselves bringing this one home! Al stretches the boundaries of technique, Bob and Harold stick to him like glue - and the ending is a nice put-to-bed.

Listen to the Wabash Blues - (Real Audio - 5:15)

Selection Twenty-eight: Sweet Lorraine is a nice showpiece for Bob Havens - plain and simple. Just listen to his soothing trombone, and you'll understand why he was the most popular sideman Al Hirt had (and maybe also why he didn't stay around so long).

Listen to Sweet Lorraine - (Real Audio - 2:31)

Selection Twenty-nine: The Saints is one of the old Hirt show tunes. The whole band gets into the act. It starts off as one would expect, nice ensemble, great individual solos - then somewhere near the end of the trumpet solo you fear something is wrong. Like little pod-people, the others start following Al's lead - until they wind up taking one note apiece (in sequence) for a great wind-up. Too complicated for me - but they pull it off as they did in countless concerts and shows. Just proves that these guys were at the top of their form, we're glad we were able to hear them. One helluva ride downtown!

Listen to The Saints - (Real Audio- 6:41)

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