Alois Maxwell Hirt, known as "Al" or "Jumbo", was born in New Orleans, Louisiana. As a child he played in the Junior Police Band with the children of Alcide Nunez. By the age of 16 Hirt was playing professionally, often with his friend Pete Fountain.
In 1940 Hirt went to Cincinnati, Ohio to study at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music with Dr. Frank Simon (a former soloist with the John Philip Sousa Orchestra). After a stint in the United States Army during World War II Hirt performed with various swing big bands, including those of Tommy Dorsey, Jimmy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, and Ina Rae Hutton. In 1950 he became first trumpet and solist with Horace Heidt's Orchestra.
After this Hirt returned to New Orleans, working with various Dixieland bands and leading his own bands. Despite Hirt's statement years later "I'm not a jazz trumpet and never was a jazz trumpet" he made a few recordings where he demonstrated ability to in that style during the 1950s, notably with bandleader Monk Hazel and a few other recordings on the local Southland Records label. Hirt's virtuoso dexterity and fine tone on his instrument soon attracted the attention of national labels. Hirt had 22 different record albums on the Billboard Pop charts in the 1950s and 1960s. The albums Honey In The Horn and Cotton Candy were both in the top 10 best sellers for 1964, the same year Hirt scored a top hit single with and his cover of Alan Toussant's tune Java.
Hirt opened up a club on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter in 1962, which he ran until 1983.
In 1987 Hirt played a solo rendition of Ave Maria for Pope John Paul II's visit to New Orleans.
Hirt died in New Orleans of liver failure. His remains were buried in Metarie Cemetery.
"He's a very good trumpet player, but that's some corny-ass shit he plays... He's like a white Uncle Tom." -- Miles Davis