'Just like a fish in water'

MUSICIAN: Andy Firth played his first notes on the clarinet at five and went on to become one of the finest jazz musicians in the world today.
MUSICIAN: Andy Firth played his first notes on the clarinet at five and went on to become one of the finest jazz musicians in the world today.

Born and raised in Port Augusta, musician Andy Firth is one of the finest jazz clarinet and saxophone players in the world today.

Growing up in a musical family, Andy was surrounded by music day and night.

His father was an enthusiastic clarinet and saxophone player while his grandfather had a flair for Hawaiian music and the banjo. 

“I’ve always wanted to play the Clarinet since I was 5-years-old,” Andy said.

“I remember listening to one of my father’s recordings of the great Benny Goodman and a little light bulb came on — that’s when I knew what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”

Fast-forward 37 years and Andy is standing on stage receiving a standing ovation after playing for a sold out Carnegie Hall in New York.

One of very few Australian Artists to have performed a concert under their own name at Carnegie Hall, a mecca for musicians, Andy has had a long and accomplished career. 

He has played with jazz and blues legends among the likes of B.B. King and Buddy DeFranco — to name a few — as well as appearing on TV shows including The Burrows Collection, Hey, Hey it’s Saturday and The Midday Show with Ray Martin.

“It all came very naturally to me,” Andy said of his musical talent. 

“It was just about the only thing I knew how to do and It was something that I didn’t have to think about, I was just like a fish in water.”

Andy had a one track mind from the minute he became hooked on jazz and growing up in a country town he was often considered strange for not being interested in cricket or football. 

Not particularly academically inclined Andy did enough to scrape by and make it to university where he gained a degree in performance and launched his jazz career. 

“I was shocking at school,” he laughed.

“They had a thing called silent sustained reading where you had to read for 15 minutes every morning and I was forever getting notes sent home because I was bringing in scores of Beethoven and Mozart to read.”

From a young age Andy knew he didn’t want to just be an average musician he had dreams of going to a world level. He wanted to work with the people who had inspired him on the recordings he listened to and idolised growing up.

Andy said that the trick is to never let go of the dream, something he can attest to after ticking off most of his bucket list in his 40’s.

“You’ve got to keep the dream in focus but you’ve got to have a plan and you have got to be realistic,” he said.

“I remember sitting down with a piece of butchers paper and writing down where I am now and where I want to be and going through all the steps on how to get there.

“I put in the work to be able to do things with the instrument that other people couldn’t — If you put the extra yards in then you get better results.”

While Andy doesn’t perform as much as he used to he can now “pick the eyes out” of what he wants to do. 

He is focusing more on leaving a legacy as a composer and is well on his way to doing so with with close to 700 compositions to his name and books on the main list of the Australian Music Examination Syllabus.

He now runs a teaching studio in Newcastle where he and his wife Liz take students from beginners all the way through to professional level, inspiring the next generation of jazz and classical musicians.