Friday, October 5, 2007

Pete Fountain Presents the Best of Dixieland: Al Hirt - Verve Records

Pete Fountain Presents the Best of Dixieland: Al Hirt

Booklet Below

2001 Verve Records 314549362-2

CD Listing:
1. The Original Dixieland One-Step
2. Tin Roof Blues
3. Royal Garden Blues
4. Panama
5. Blue and Broken-Hearted
6. Wolverine Blues
7. Washington and Lee Swing
8. I'm Going Home
9. Jazz Me Blues
10. Night and Day
11. South Rampart Street Parade
12. Sugar

Al Hirt (trumpet) with Pete Fountain (clarinet, tenor saxophone); Bob Havens (trombone); Roy Zimmerman (piano); Bob Coquille (bass); Paul Edwards (drums).

Recorded 1956 in New Orleans

This reissue includes all of Al Hirt's Jazz Band Ball, Verve MGV 1012
Original recordings produced by Norman Granz

Al Hirt was "one of the very greatest musicians I ever heard, let alone worked with," says Pete Fountain. "Just playing side by side with him night after night made me work harder and keep trying new things."

In the mid-Fifties, Fountain and Hirt were the fair-haired boys of New Orleans jazz. Within a decade, both became major instrumental stars on the pop charts. In 1956 they made their best album of traditional New Orleans jazz together, Al Hirt's Jazz Band Ball, using the combo they were co-leading at Dan's Pier 600 on Bourbon Street. Widely celebrated as one of the finest hours of New Orleans jazz, this legendary document of two emerging superstars has never been previously reissued on CD, and now contains new liner notes from Pete Fountain himself.

Liner Notes:

"Jumbo" was always my nickname for Al Hirt and even today, after he's left us, I somehow can't think of him as anything else - he was a giant of a man, in physical stature as well as talent.

Our careers and our lives always ran sort of parallel, even though he was eight years older than me (he was born in 1922) and he had a whole other early life before we met. We were both born in New Orleans and cut our teeth on New Orleans jazz, but as a teenager, Al went to Ohio to study formally at the Cincinnati Conservatory, and he had worked in some famous swing bands, such as those of Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey. Al also spent three years playing trumpet for Horace Heidt and His Musical Knights. We both grew beards together when we were playing on Bourbon Street - I had a goatee and a thin mustache that looked like my clarinet, and Al raised a big full beard that paralleled his big full sound on the horn.

I first met Jumbo when he came back to New Orleans around 1948. We played together in a little band at the Famous Door on Bourbon Street. I was still a scrawny little kid, and Jumbo was just as big then and every bit as gifted as he was fifteen years later when he was a superstar. We became fast friends and something of a team; the papers wrote us up and we were, as my friend the writer Doug Ramsey put it, "the Gold Dust Twins of New Orleans jazz"

Like I mentioned, Jumbo had been conservatory-trained, which, combined with his own natural talent and energy, made him one of the very greatest musicians I ever heard, let alone worked with. I really learned a lot just working with him, even though I didn't play trumpet. It helped my technique, because just playing side by side with him night after night made me work harder and keep trying new things. I learned so much about my own horn just trying to keep up with that animal! He was so well schooled - he could play anything. Not only did we play together, but more importantly, we went fishing together.

We were working together a lot around 1956 - and not just musically. By that time we both had families; I had three children and Al had a whole houseful of kids. Strangely, there didn't seem to be much work for traditional New Orleans musicians in New Orleans around that time. I couldn't get a gig at all and Jumbo was only working a few nights a week. We had a friend who started an extermination company called A&M Pest Control. "M" was a friend of ours who was professionally known as "Miller the Killer." It was a disastrous episode for me; not only did I have to crawl around under houses spraying for termites, but what was even worse was that I had to go around like a door-to-door salesman trying to sell people our services. I was the worst salesman you could imagine. Since I was so skinny, I had no trouble sliding under people's houses, but to this day I have no idea how Jumbo (he was in the roach division) managed it, since thin he wasn't.

Finally, I got a call from my friend Godfrey Hirsch. He played vibes, drums, and piano, and was a bit older than us; he had lived in New York in the 1930s, where he played with nationally known bands such as Richard Himber's Orchestra. Our mutual pal Dan Levy, who ran a club on Bourbon Street called Pier 600, wanted to put together a band with Godfrey, Jumbo, and myself. I hadn't touched the clarinet in months, but after a considerable amount of practicing and playing it came back to me.

In addition to the Pier 600 gig, which was only three nights a week, we started getting club-date work. Our routine went like this: Whoever got the gig became the bandleader and wore the bow tie.One night at one club we were Al Hirt's Dixielanders, and he wore the bow tie. The next night at a somewhere we were Pete Fountain's band, and I wore the bow tie. People kept seeing us at different functions with different guys allegedly in charge.

By this time Pier 600 really started to happen. We started small, working only three nights a week mostly to empty tables, but within a few months we had become the happening event in New Orleans. That was where everything started for us. We recorded for a local label, and then made what I thought was our best album, Al Hirt's Jazz Band Ball, for Verve Records. I was glad that we got to lay down some of the music we were playing at Pier 600 - our versions of the traditional New Orleans repertoire that we had grown up with.

We both "broke out" about the same time. I went on The Lawrence Welk Show and started to make records and TV appearances. When I couldn't do a spent on The Dinah Shore Show, I told them to get Al Hirt instead. They did, and that was the beginning of his career as a national figure.

Al begin making his singles with a country sound for Victor at the same time I was doing a long series of albums for Coral. For a while, Al had a manager who tried to pull us apart and make it seem like we were rivals or something because we were both on top of the charts at around the same time. We never felt that way of course; all through the Sixties and Seventies we played together when ever Jumbo was in town. And we were fishing buddies to the end.

A few years before Jumbo died, some promoter sent us off on a big tour: my band, Al's band, and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. We played New England and upstate New York and had a ball. It was great to be able to spend some time with him again. I suggested that maybe at the end Al and I could come out and jam with the Preservation Hall guys, but Al said, "They pay us to play, they're going to have to pay us more to play together." I don't want to make it look like Al was greedy, since over the years there were dozens of times when he would just drop by my club and sit in with us - and play the whole evening for nothing!

The last time Al sat in with me was just a few months before he died. I still miss him more than I can say, and I just can't give him enough credit for everything he did for me. To this day, whether I'm making music or catching fish, it just doesn't seem the same without Jumbo.

- Pete Fountain with Will Friedwald September 2000

Pete Fountain is probably the best-known clarinetist, and certainly one of the best-known traditional jazz musicians, of the last fifty years. With the exception of two years when he served as featured soloist on The Lawrence Welk Show, he has resided in New Orleans his entire life, where he continues to operate and serve as the primary attraction at Pete Fountain's French Quarter Inn at the New Orleans Hilton. He has recorded nearly 100 albums, including many national best-sellers.

Al Hirt (trumpet) with Pete Fountain (Clarinet);
Bob Havens (trombone)
Roy Zimmerman (piano);
Bob Coquille (bass);
Paul Edwards (drums).

On track 6: Add Fountain (tenor saxophone).
On track 7: Fountain (tenor saxophone) replaces (clarinet).

Recorded 1956 at Dan's Pier 600, New Orleans Original-LP issue: Al Hirt's Jazz Band Ball Verve MGV 1012

Original release produced by Norman Granz.

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