“Andy Firth is a joy to hear. He is a virtuoso that goes beyond virtuosity. The joy and enthusiasm in his playing and teaching reminds us all of why art exists, and why as musicians we wanted to play music in the first place.”
US composer & woodwind master
Where were you born and when?
9th March, 1966 in Port Augusta, South Australia.
Where do you live?
Newcastle, NSW, Australia, located 2 hours drive north of Sydney.
Is your family musical too?
My Father was a good clarinet & saxophone player, my brother is a rock guitarist and song writer, my sister did Jazz ballet. Both my Grandfathers were accomplished musicians.
Are you married and do you have any children?
Yes I am married. My wife’s name is Liz, she is a wonderful clarinetist / cellist. Liz tutors clarinet and works as a freelance graphic designer. We don’t have children, but we have four Cocker Spaniels named Jazz, BeBop, Tycho & Zoot.
When did you start playing?
I taught myself the clarinet about age 5 being inspired by watching my Dad playing along to Benny Goodman and Artie Shaw records. I took up the saxophone at age 10 and taught myself to play Yakkety Sax along with the Boots Randolph recording before I turned 11. At 12 I started taking clarinet lessons from a wonderful teacher and friend of the family, Bernie Williamson. By the age of 14, I was working as a professional musician around South Australia.
When was your first public performance and what did you play?
My first public performance was at 9 years old, at a Railway Christmas party with a family friend, Ron Till. My first memorable performance was of Woody Herman’s “Golden Wedding” for a pantomime production when I was 11 years old. I remember having memorized it and could hit the top “A” at the end without too much effort. At the age of thirteen I played a wonderful Jack Wiard clarinet feature from a Ray Price Quintet recording of “Along the road to Gundagai” on a South Australian TV show for Kids called “Just for Kids.”
What is you favourite music?
I don’t really have one. I love playing anything and everything. If I had to pick a style though, then Jazz would win hands down. I enjoy playing classical music, but I usually find jazz more challenging and satisfying especially because of the improvisational nature of it.
Who are your favourite musicians and composers that you listen to?
Far too many to list them all, but briefly; Maestro Tommy Tycho, Tommy Emmanuel, Don Burrows, George Golla, Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, Glenn Miller, Buddy DeFranco, Eddie Daniels, Hugo Strasser & his orchestra, Syd Lawrence Big Band, Henry Mancini, Stan Getz, Paul Desmond, Gerald Albright, Grover Washington Jnr, Tower of Power, Cannonball Adderley, Charlie Parker, Bobby Darin, Yngwie J Malmsteen, Cold Chisel, Yellow Jackets, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, Billy May, Nelson Riddle, Beethoven, Mozart, Bach, Richard Strauss, Rosetti, Crusell, Weber, Spohr, Stamitz. That’s a small smattering of my favourites.
Do you still practice?
Yes of course but not as much or in the same way I did when I was younger. From the age of 5 to 20 years old I was doing about 5-7 hours a day 6 days a week. At about 21 years old I was working at such a high level and so frequently that I found that I didn’t have time to do much more than long notes, my scales and arpeggios and maybe a quick study or two. Now I do most of my practice in my head away from my instruments. I’m constantly thinking about performing, improvising, arranging and composing so when I need to play or create something, I just do it.
Do you have any hobbies?
Not really because music is so much of my life, there’s not much room left for anything else. I do love messing around with Mac computers, recording, bike riding, spending time with my dogs, pottering around and fixing up the garden and our 1915 cottage with my wife Liz.
Do you teach?
YES! I love teaching and I can’t imagine myself not involved in education in one form or another as it is a fundamental and essential part of who I am and what I believe in. I view teaching not as another gig but as an honour and obligation that I must fulfill. I teach privately in Newcastle but I have visited, and continue to visit numerous schools and Universities in my capacity as Australian artist and woodwind specialist educator for Buffet Crampon, Keilwerth Saxophones, Lomax Classic and D’Addario reed products. I’ve been teaching for over 20 years now and hold a Degree in Music performance and a Diploma of Education.
What brands do you play and use?
I only play instruments and use products that I believe are the best I can find. I play Buffet Crampon R13 clarinets and grenadilla clarinets, Keilwerth SX90R saxophones, a 1955 Conn curved soprano, Trevor J James flutes (Cantabile), D’Addario Evolution/Reserve Classic clarinet reeds and Jazz select sax reeds, size 3 on clarinet and 2H on saxes. I play Lomax Classic ligatures and accessories and Lomax/Meyer mouthpieces – Lomax “Andy Firth Jazz Model” on clarinet and Lomax “Firth Magic” on alto. A metal Meyer 8J and Otto Link 6* hard rubber on tenor. An Otto Link 6* on soprano, Meyer 5 on baritone and Lomax classic on bass clarinet. I am a fanatical Mac computer user in the studio and a Mac powerbook for composing “on the move”. Pro-tools 002 recording software, SmartMusic software: Finale for all music scoring and publishing, Smart Music for my teaching, Apple Logic for sequencing.
I want to be a great player and performer so what advice can you give me?
Your full potential is locked away in your heart and mind. It’s always been there and it was a gift from God and your parents. Exactly what that gift is and how it manifests itself is in your hands and control. If you want to be a great clarinetist, trumpeter, singer, guitarist or whatever your heart desires, you must focus on this image with every fibre of your being. Visualise this person that you want to become every second of your day and work with a single-minded purpose towards being them. Don’t ever stop believing that you can be that person one day, no matter what life throws at you. Work on setting up a strategic plan; a list of qualities, realistic goals and above all, mentors and people that can help you achieve this. Then the rest is just good old fashioned practice.