Mathieu Jaton, chief executive officer of the Montreux Jazz Festival, talks to swissinfo.ch about the nerves and excitement surrounding this year’s historic programme.
swissinfo.ch: This is the 50th anniversary. You were also here for the 30th and 40th celebrations. What’s make this year so special?
Mathieu Jaton: It’s very rare to have a festival celebrating its 50th anniversary. Montreux is in my heart and stomach. I’ve spent 22 years working here as a staff member.
When I started the press conference today I felt very moved. Claude [Nobs] passed away in 2013 and he was always telling me: ‘I’m really looking forward to the 50th anniversary’. He’s not here today but I really feel him especially as we are holding the press conference at his house, where he was born and brought artists and cooked for them, people like David Bowie. Claude used to DJ here for parties until 5am.
swissinfo.ch: What are the highlights of this year’s programme for you?
M.J.: It’s hard as there are so many. Neil Young played in Montreux in 2001 and we were expecting him to come back for the 50th, so this is very important.
Then there are all the friends of Montreux, people like Van Morrison, Santana, Deep Purple, playing on the same bill as Zappa plays Zappa which makes the bridge with the story of Smoke on the Water, after the Casino which burnt down in 1971 during a Frank Zappa concert.
And in the younger generation we have Mogwai, and PJ Harvey playing with Patti Smith, and Air.
swissinfo.ch: You also have special moments like jazz legend Charles Lloyd opening the festival. He played at the first Montreux Jazz Festival in 1967.
M.J.: We have been very close to him for many years. He was the very first American artist to play the festival in 1967. It was the most logical line-up for opening the festival. We’ve created a special opening night at the Casino with Charles Lloyd, and on the same line-up we have Monty Alexander playing the Monty Alexander Album which he played in 1976 when he came for the first time. At that time he created a special line-up and recorded that album which was his most successful.
swissinfo.ch: Who will Quincy Jones be inviting to his special evening?
M.J.: Quincy is really the ambassador of the festival. He’s been supporting us for many years and co-produced the festival in 1991-93 with Claude. When Claude passed away he called me and said ‘Mathieu, I’m here to support the festival like I always have’.
So it was important for me to have him here this year. He’s coming with a big band and with guests singing Quincy Jones standards. Currently we have four: Patty Austin, Al Jarreau, Grace and the one I love John Batiste from the new generation of New Orleans music.
swissinfo.ch: You used to joke with Claude that you were the caretakers of this five-star hotel, known as the Montreux Jazz Festival. Behind the scenes it’s a lot of effort. How difficult has it been to put together this 50th edition?
M.J.: There was a lot of passion but I felt quite some pressure as I’m having to carry 50 years of history of the music business. But I didn’t feel stressed. The programme was strong and made a bridge with the history of the festival and we got support from many artists.
swissinfo.ch: Claude was a demanding person to work for requiring total loyalty. What kind of boss are you?
M.J.: I’m not of the same generation as him. The festival was his baby. He was the festival. When I took over it was very important that the spirit of Claude and the festival continues. I’m not the festival. I’m the one driving the festival for the future and I’m not alone. I have a team of 30 people who have invested with their hearts. But I’m very proud to represent the next 50 years.
swissinfo.ch: You’re celebrating the remarkable history of the festival and with this line-up you want to show the potential for the next 50 years. How do you feel about the future of the festival?
M.J.: I feel very happy and confident about the future. At the beginning of 2000 when the record industry and sales were going down and down and artists started touring, doing big productions, I heard some people in the music industry asking what would happen to Montreux as we have small halls and it’s difficult to bring people in.
There are a lot of big open air festivals which are amazing like Coachella and Lollapalooza and Glastonbury with major artists. But for me the dream of Montreux is what we’ve made over the past three years, having big acts like Muse come in a small hall of 4,000 capacity. That’s for me the future of music. Even if you have big productions you can invite artists to do acoustic or smaller productions to make a difference and offer intimacy and authenticity which are the real values of Montreux.
My goal in the future is to keep the spirit and create all the elements so that the magic can escape.