Sunday, July 29, 2007

Al Hirt's Last Interview - Cigar Smoker Magazine - Interview

Al Hirt's Last Interview - Cigar Smoker Magazine
(Some great Pete Fountain Insight!)

Al Hirt, was one of the world's greatest trumpet players. With a heart as big as his passion for music, life and cigars, Al was know to his friends as Jumbo. Jumbo joked with Cigar Smoker Magazine about Frank Sinatra, Louie Armstrong, and his musical best friend, Pete Fountain. As his last joke, he told us that Fountain keeps all of his money hidden in his freezer with the pork roast! When Al and Pete met 40 years ago they worked for an exterminator - Al worked with the roaches and Pete worked with the rats! Al played for presidents, popes and led the Mardi Gras parade many times. Jumbo is up in heaven playing with Grabriel's Big Band now and we present his very last interview to you.

Q: We're here at Charles W. Drury's Humidor Room in New Orleans, Louisiana.
A: He keeps a good store! You can't beat him. He's a good man, he and his wife are nice people. He don't drink....
Q: He was last night!
A: Well he is a Cajun!
Q: Recently I picked up a CD with you and Pete Fountain on it.
A: Oh yeah? That's old, we did that at Superbowl XII I think it was.
Q: What I enjoyed most on that CD is the Louie Armstrong tribute.
A: Oh yeah. That was the Superbowl, and guess what? I didn't get a nickel to play any of them. Bob Cochran, do you remember him?
Q: No.
A: He had a heart attack and died. I said, "You ain't gonna pay me no money?" He said, "No! This is an honor!" I said, "Up your ass, this ain't no honor to me! Give me some money, I want to get paid. When I pick up this horn, I expect money!" He said, "Well sorry, you can go talk to Pete about it." I said, "Pete who?" He was a good guy.....I think I played at it four or five times already. People like to come to New Orleans because they can swing pretty good!
Q: Oh there's music falling out of every place and girls legs kicking out of windows.......
A: Yeah, there's a place right across the street, with the leg coming out of the window, it's wild.
Q: There's all kinds of stuff, but it is a great music city.
A: It is. There's a lot of great musicians who started out here.
Q: If I say Chicago is home of the Blues, I'd pretty much say that New Orleans is home of Jazz.
A: Both New Orleans and Chicago. Shit, I burned down two joints in Chicago. I forgot the name of it, some hotel.
Q: You've got your own jazz club down here in New Orleans don't you?
A: Yeah, right across the street from the broad with her leg out the window.
Q: Are you playing this year in the Super Bowl?
A: No, not this year, but I've done it a lot of times!
Q: Can I get you to tell me a little bit about Louie Armstong?
A: I think everybody could see that he was the best there ever was. He was a stylist. He had a way of playing that nobody else duplicated. You could copy him but not well. He used to say, "Yes sir!" to everybody, what was he doing calling me sir? I ain't your pa! He'd die laughing. He's a great guy. He always had a great band. He was an inspiration to all the trumpet players. He was a nice guy. I never heard him say a bad thing about anybody. He was from New Orleans. A lot of good players from New Orleans. Everybody loved him. He was so happy! He was a good man.
Q: How would you describe your style?
A: A little bit of this, a little bit of that. I never had any specific style. I've played in a symphony orchestra. I did a little of that. I used to work with the Boston Pops. Then I got a band and we started playing jazz. I had Fountain, (Pete), as my first clarinet player.
Q: Do you still see him?
A: I saw him last night. He said, "You know I'm working one night a week now." "You're only working one night a week?" I said. He said, "Yeah man I got enough money, I said get out I know that, and I know where you keep it too!" He keeps his money in the freezer. He keeps it wrapped up like a roast! He said, "Come here I want to show you something." He said, "You see that? That ain't no roast beef, that is money!" I said, "You son of a bitch!" He opened it for me and it was full of twenty dollar bills. He had about ten packages of twenty dollar bills in the freezer.
Q: That's what they call cold cash.
A: You're right, cold cash.
Q: Charlie and I were talking earlier, you played with the Benny Goodman Band didn't you?
A: Sure. When I was younger.
Q: I'm sure you know now that the swing music is coming back, the kids are dancing to it.
A: I'm glad to see it come back. I played with Benny Goodman when I first got out of the service. Three years. Those were the most miserable three years I ever spent in my whole life, was playing with that son-of-a-bitch!He was wild, man. He was crazy. He was in his own world all the time. He was on another planet. He said to me I used to stand in the front and he'd say, "Who's that right there?" I'd say that's your brother Benny, you don't know your own brother?" He said, "Oh am I supposed to know him? He thinks he knows how to play bass, and he doesn't know how to play shit". He talked like that about his brother! Me and other trumpet players from the west coast, we come down and he wanted two players as lead players. He had two jazz players already. We were in there to split the lead book. We got there the first day, he said "Who are you guys and what are you doing here? Who the hell are you? I hope you can play jazz, 'cuz this is the band we're going to play jazz in." I said, "We're here to play. Lead; we're lead players, we don't play jazz. We wish we could play jazz better but we don't". He said, "Well you're taking the next chorus, I've got news for you." That was him he was a mean bastard.
Q: I heard some bootleg tapes of Buddy Rich, he was really berating his players.
A: Buddy was something else, I played with Buddy for awhile. He was crazy. In the club he had that big band. He was a funny guy. He used to get pissed and you didn't have to do nothing to him. So he's sitting there and he had an arrangement that was great that one of the guys in the band made on West Side Story, all different shorts from the picture. Some guy dropped a plate on the floor, and he wouldn't play. The band got all ready to play and he won't start. I went up to him and I said, " The whole place is full of people and they ain't trying to put you down, it was an accident, the guy dropped a plate. Don't get mad, you'd better play, if you don't play, I'm gonna get a cop to come in here and throw your skinny ass out of here. He's still the best goddamn drummer I ever heard, that was Buddy. He was the best, no question. He used to do what he wanted when he was with Tommy Dorsey. He'd wear different clothes, and Dorsey never said nothing. He let him get by with anything, anything he wanted. But with the way he played he could. I'm surprised he lasted as long as he did because he was very ill. But there was no way you could get him to eat at all. When Buddy played, he played all out, all the time. It was a wonder he didn't keel over and die before he did. One time we were playing in Memphis, I said, Jesus Christ man, you're gonna kill yourself the way you play drums. He said, "That's the way I play." I said, "No shit, don't ask me, I'm watching you. I can see you playing like that." It wasn't long after that, he did, he had a heart attack and he died. Boy what a player he was. HE was the best.
Q: The conversation used to be, who's better Buddy Rich or Gene Krupa.
A: Oh shit, I had Krupa play at the club too. Rich could play way better than Krupa. Krupa was a nicer guy, Buddy was a miserable fuck. When he's mad he's ready to fight all the time. And he was a little shit.If somebody would have popped him one on the jaw it would have knocked him cold. He had a fight with Sinatra when Sinatra was singing with Dorsey. They had a big bust out fight! He and Frank. Frank was raised with all them hoods like Jilly. All them guys, they knew how to fight! Buddy, he wouldn't punch a hole in a paper bag, but he used to like to think he could. I tried to get along with all the guys. It wasn't hard, as long as you do what they say.
Q: Do you do seminars for trumpet players, or do you teach at all?
A: I've done a few, as a matter of fact, that train they're bringing down here, it's coming from Chicago. The Orient Express, a duplication of the Orient Express. They run it here. New Orleans, Chicago, and they run it out West and they run it back. I used to do some talks on jazz to some of the people. But they don't want me to do it! So I told Beverly, "Shit, if that's what they want me to do, take it and shove it." I said, "I'm going to do some jazz lectures." Q:Beverly Hirt: And we hope you clean up your language!
A: Della, Sarah Vaughn, I've played with all of them, and I had fun too. Enjoyed it, always enjoyed it. Ella Fitzgerald was fantastic. Terrific lady. She and I were sitting on at the bench of the halftime show. She got on her float, and I got on the other end of the float and we were making noise. She's singing, I'm playing, ridiculous. She was a sweetie.
Q: We keep going back to the Superbowl, so I have to ask you about football. Charles tells me that you have some football in your background with the New Orleans Saints.
A: Sure, I had a piece of the team. But that didn't make them win nothing. They ain't won shit! They never did! They never did get in the playoffs, they never did get nowhere. Atlanta was the same though. And all of a sudden! Well what they did was get a good coach.
Q: Well we've got a good cigar smoking friend of ours that happens to be the coach right now!
A: Oh yeah! Mike Ditka? I didn't know he smoked cigars! Did he come in here? People love him in Chicago! In time, they'll love him here. If the guy that bought the team, well he's got a lot of bread, but he don't want to spend none of it. Ditka is the kind of guy who wants players. He expected to get the guys he wanted. This cheap ass bastard wouldn't get them. So as far as I know, he's still here next year.
Q: He's a hell of a guy, you know when Mike Ditka's in the room. How can you not love a guy who comes out in favor of public hanging?
A: He's something else I tell you what! When he gets mad, get out of the way and clear out. He's the only tight end in the Hall of Fame. Split ends, not tight ends. When he hits you, your ass went backwards. You couldn't push him around, he's a tough man. But a nice man if he likes you.
Q: He likes me.
A: Well you're the kind of guy, everybody likes. You can see that, don't take know genius to see a man that everybody likes. I knew him in Chicago, when he was there. I was surprised and glad to see him come down here, but he can't make a miracle, when he ain't got no material.
Q: Remember, I'm from Chicago, I know about not having football players!
A: Well sure, but you've had some great ones!
Q: Yeah but they left.
A: Walter, (Payton), he used to walk on his hands to the top of the stands, and back down. He was like iron. He was a little mother fucker! He had muscles!
Q: Do you have a great cigar story?
A: Beverly: He's smoked illegally in every airport in the United States! One time, we had such a long wait, he went into the handicapped washroom so you could sit in there and smoke your cigar.
Q: That wasn't exactly the story I was going for!
A: I hear that baby! I always smoked cigars. I've smoked cigars with everybody in show business. George Burns, I worked with him a number of times. He used to introduce me, when I'd get to the microphone, he had enough cigar ashes to start your own bonfire. Then he told me if my piano player doesn't stop calling me "man", I'm going to punch him in the nose. He called everybody "man", and he made the mistake of going up to George and calling him "man". He smoked twenty cigars a day. That's a lot of cigars man. He loved the ladies that old fart! Right before he died he was still chasing broads and looking at their ass. I said, "George, you're too old for that." He said, "You ain't never too old for that! Drop your pants, I'll show you who's too old." He was a good man. I have no regrets about being in show business. I got to do everything I wanted to do with every band I wanted to do it with. Even The Boston Pops. And with Arthur Fiedler, who was a crazy mother fucker. You wouldn't think he was crazy. He was funny, he had that long, long white hair. Last time we were at symphony hall, we were playing a movement of one of the symphonies with the orchestra. Everybody was applauding because they knew I went to school there, I was going out to take a bow and he said to me from the wings, "Go back out there and pull me by the arm, like you're pulling me out on to the stage." I said, " Jesus you know show business better than me man, you know what you're doing." So I bring him out there, he's holding back, and I'm pulling, by the time I get him out there, he takes this big sweeping bow. The crowd went wild.
Q: Who are some of your favorite trumpet players?
A: Dizzy Gillespie of course. We did a bunch of gigs together. Maynard Ferguson. The last time I went to Detroit, they got a bunch of trumpet players together, Dizzy, Maynard Ferguson and me. Dizzy says to me, "You two mother fuckers, just because you're white, don't think you can play louder than me!" We all laughed and then he said, "No, there ain't nobody who can play louder than you Jumbo! Let it go man! Don't hold back." And I said, "I intend to let it go you four foot mother fucker!" And that's the kind of repartee we had. He was a good player, and a good guy too.
Q: Where'd you get the nickname Jumbo?
A: My brother started calling me that when we were kids. He said, "For Christ sake, you look like Jumbo, the big elephant in the circus!" He'd played the trombone. Not too good.
Q: Charles Drury: How did Jumbo Gumbo get started here in New Orleans?
A: It started with Pete Fountain in SuperBowl XII.
Q: Beverly: You did Super Jazz with Pete.
A: Beverly's got a better memory than me, you're an old woman. I love ya! She was a dancer, that's how we met, with Horace Heights, and I'm sitting there playing trumpet with Horace and his big band. Terrible band. I'm sitting there with my horn in my lap. The two other trumpet players are saying, "Ain't you gunna play Jumbo?" I said, "No, I ain't playin' 'cuz I'm watching some touch up there!" And that was Beverly.
Q: Charles Drury: What's your favorite cigar brand?
A: Cohiba, I like Cohiba's best, Monte Cristo's, I like the big cigars, I'm a big dude. You look like a fruit smokin' those small cigars.
Q: Charles Drury: Didn't you win a Grammy Award?
A: Yes, I won it for the song "Java". Want to buy it? I'll sell it to you.
Beverly: I'm really proud of these awards, Jumbo won the Charlie Parker Memorial Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award for playing his music for over 65 years. He's also in the International Jazz Hall of Fame. He's been nominated for the Kennedy Center Music Award.
Q: Tell me about Charlie Parker.
A: He was a nice dude. He was quiet. You had to get to know him. You know what he liked better than anything else? He liked Country music. Charlie Parker was different, he wasn't like anybody. That motherfucker had so much technique on the alto...I ain't never heard anybody play an alto like that. He had so much speed on that goddamn thing. He played great. He picked up that alto and played his ass off. Man, he could play! Ooooh.
Q: Did you play with Sinatra?
A: Yeah, the last gig I had in New York was with Frank at Radio City. Right before he died. Jilly was his boy. He was crazy about Jilly. Frank like to surround himself with guys like that. Frank said to me, "Jumbo, you don't know how to tie your tie!" "Frank, you and your rules, man, you're crazy, I don't wear no tuxedo! "Well you're wearing one here and I'm gonna tie your tie for you." Every night we get together and he'd say, "Come here, let me tie your tie." Man, women would piss in their pants when they met Frank. Ella came over to the joint one time, (Al's bar), and she sat down, God Bless Her, with her legs open like that, and she starts singin" and knocks everybody out. And she had her trio with her and she had Paul Smith playing piano. Paul was a great pianist about 6 foot six, looked like a basketball player. I said to him, "Paul, what's the matter with you man? You look like you're all bent over like you're gonna fall over. What ya doin? He said, "I can't get my legs underneath this piano!" I look over at Ronnie her piano player, and he says, "It was me! I had a lady cut the legs shorter on the piano for a joke.
Q: You are good friends with Jerry Lewis and play his telethon every year. Where did you first meet him?
A: I met Jerry at the end of the boardwalk in Atlantic City at Skinny LaMotta's place. That's where Jerry and Dean Martin started out.
Q: Beverly: Jumbo, tell them the story about when you were in the elevator with Sonny Liston.
A: Oh, we were working the Sullivan show and Sullivan had a stage manager who ran everything there. His name was Ed Franklin. They had a little elevator on the ground floor that went up to the stage. It was tough to fit in there because it was small. We were waiting for one guy. His head hit the top of the elevator. He says, "Sign this for me champ. Just sign Ed." What do you think he says? "How do you spell Ed?" Nobody laughed. It was like a graveyard in there. He looked like a mountain, Sonny Liston.
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