Q&A with Tim Firth – 2011 NJA Finalist

Each year since 2005, in the month leading up to the jazz festival in Wangaratta, Miriam Zolin interviews the finalists in the National Jazz Awards. The awards are decided at Wangaratta in a series of heats culminating in a finals performance on the Sunday of the festival. Wangaratta Jazz festival this year runs from Friday 28 to Monday 31 October.

The National Jazz Awards have been presented at the festival since it began in 1990 and were designed to contribute to the development and recognition of young jazz and blues musicians up to the age 35. The Awards have become a much anticipated highlight of the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues.

This year’s top ten finalists are: Ben Falle, 25, Perth | Graham Hunt, 27, Sydney |  James Waples, 28, Sydney | Tim Firth, 29, Sydney | Hugh Harvey, 30, Melbourne | Evan Mannell, 32, Sydney | Sam Bates, 33, Melbourne | Craig Simon, 34, Melbourne | Dave Goodman, 34, Sydney | Cameron Reid, 34, Sydney

When did you start playing jazz and why? For example, was there a ‘moment’ when it came to you as a calling or vocation?

I started playing jazz about 10 years ago when i was studying music at The University of New South Wales, but i didn’t really like it as i was more of a rock drummer at the time. But by my third year of uni i started checking out a few gigs around Sydney, especially the late night jam sessions at the Wine Banq in the city run by Jonathan Zwartz. I saw drummers like Felix Bloxsom, Craig Simon, Evan Mannell and Andrew Dickeson and these guys blew me away. The sheer intensity and the subtleties of the music blew me away. I remember walking out of the Wine Banq one night at 2am and i thinking to myself ‘I want to do what these guys do’, so i started practising…

Which musicians (jazz or otherwise) have been your greatest influences? What about them stood or stands out for you?

There are so many. Australian drummers such as Simon Barker, Felix Bloxsom, Craig Simon and Evan Mannell were guys i would follow around town, to hear them where ever they played. I loved their command of the instrument and the way they could push a band to make them sound good. Andrew Dickeson was my teacher when i studied at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music and i wouldn’t be the musician i am today without his influence. My very first teacher Santino Dimarco taught me how to be a musician, not just a drummer. Sydney guitarist James Muller is a also a major influence, every gig with him is a lesson in how to play music with intensity and beauty. Modern American drummers such as Brian Blade, Eric Harland, Greg Hutchinson, Clarence Penn, Bill Stewart, Keith Carlock and Chris Dave have been a big influence. As well as jazz drumming greats such as Elvin Jones, Tony Williams, Louis Hayes, Kenny Clarke, Roy Haynes, Billy Higgins and Shadow Wilson.

When composing or arranging, where do you get your inspiration?

I don’t really compose or arrange music, although i have in the past. I see myself as the eternal sideman. I love playing other peoples music, and therefore have no real desire to write my own music. I have the great fortune of being able to play with some of Australia’s great jazz composers. Musicians such as James Muller, Don Rader, Mark Isaacs, Judy Bailey, Richard Maegraith, and Steve Barry write amazing compositions which i love playing. I would much rather play their music than write my own. I’m not even sure what my own music would be like… perhaps a cross between Wayne Shorter’s band and Metallica?? Who knows. It might happen one day…

What’s your favourite place to play or practise?

My favourite places to play are 505 and The Sound Lounge in Sydney and Bennetts Lane in Melbourne. For practise… A pair of sticks, a practice pad, a metronome, a coffee, and test match cricket on the tv, it doesn’t get any better than that!

What does the Wangaratta Jazz Festival represent for you?

It’s the best jazz festival in the country. Hands down. Playing at this festival is such an honour for me. One of my fondest memories is playing in the 2004 National Jazz Awards finals, alongside some my drumming idols. Then two years later i got to perform at the festival with James Muller’s Trio, Theaktet and Dave Panichi’s Septet. It was such a thrill for me playing with some of my favourite bands on that stage. It’s probably the biggest stage in Australian jazz. Playing at the Wangaratta Jazz festival really gives you the feeling like “you’ve made it.” I love it.

What are you listening to now?

Being a closet metal head I’m always listening to bands like Metallica, Lamb of God, Meshuggah, Mars Volta, Tool and Karnivool. I’ve also been checking out The Red Hot Chili Peppers new album. As far as jazz music goes I’ve been checking out Gerald Clayton’s Trio, Robert Glasper’s Trio, Aaron Parks (If your reading this and you don’t own his album Invisible Cinema you should buy it!), Lage Lund, Phronesis, and Wayne Krantz.


See other NJA finalists from this and previous years >>>>

The National Jazz Awards semi-finals and final rounds will be held at the Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues, October 28-31. Festival Passes are available for blues only venues or all venue access. Purchase your early bird tickets now from www.wangarattajazz.com