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US toasts Quincy Jones and Claude Nobs

Megan Beyer, wife of the US Ambassador, described both men as "magicians"

(Keystone)

All eyes were on music legend Quincy Jones as he arrived at the United States Ambassador’s Residence in Bern for an Independence Day garden party on Monday.

In his sharp white suit, the 78-year-old producer and musician charmed the crowd, telling the 800 guests from the world of business, politics and arts: “I am in love with Switzerland. How did Switzerland get so ghetto?”

Jones as well as Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs were honoured with the Ambassador’s Award for Cultural Diplomacy at the event.

Each man received crystal awards inscribed with titles given by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Jones was honoured as a “maestro of peace”, while Nobs was named “the founding father of American jazz in Europe”.

With the 45th Montreux Jazz Festival now underway, the US Ambassador’s wife Megan Beyer reminded the audience that Nobs had created Montreux “out of nothing. Poof, like magic. Music made Montreux the holy city for jazz.”

In accepting his award Nobs warmed to the theme, reminiscing about winning Aretha Franklin over to play at one of the first festivals with a box of Swiss chocolates. 

Feet-tapping goodwill

Music as a cultural bridge was the theme of the afternoon. Guests were invited to a “Tribute to the Montreux festival”, billed as “America and Switzerland: Making beautiful music together”.

“Nothing we pursue at our embassy does as much to promote mutual cultural understanding as what you do every year at the Montreux Jazz Festival,” Ambassador Donald Beyer told Nobs.

“From the days of the cold war, you have given people a reason to smile or at least tap their feet when they think of America.”

Jones has also been a long-time collaborator of the festival, bringing an ill Miles Davis there in 1991 for a show that would be recorded and released as the jazz great’s last album.

“It’s the height of all the festivals in the world, it really is. It represents every kind of music on the planet. It’s the top. Beautiful,” Jones told swissinfo.ch.

Cultural bridge

Jones’ award comes just a few months after President Barack Obama presented him with the National Medal of Arts, America’s highest honour in the arts – another award to add to the mantelpiece alongside his 27 Grammys.

Jones has long said music and the arts are a “great asset in building bridges between cultures”, starting his first philanthropic outreach while touring in 1953 with Dizzy Gillespie on a US State Department tour of the Middle East and North Africa.

Music isn’t “at all underrated” as a diplomatic tool, he told swissinfo.ch, citing the song We are the World – which he produced – and the Live Aid concerts as key examples.

“You can’t see it, you can’t taste it, you can’t touch it, you can’t smell it. You feel it,”  said Jones of the power of music.

For Nobs too, the Montreux Jazz Festival itself serves as cultural bridge. “We have blues, gospel, African, Brazilian. With the help of Quincy, who this year is bringing a group from Korea. How would I ever have thought of bringing a group from Korea?”

It was a theme picked up by Swiss President Micheline Calmy-Rey, who sent a message to the celebrations.

“Music is an excellent means of fostering friendship and empathy between peoples and nations, it contributes to mutual understanding, and is an important complement to a steadfast political relationship,” she wrote. “Your tribute to the Montreux Jazz Festival, to Claude Nobs and Quincy Jones, is therefore a perfect symbol of the close ties that bind Switzerland and the United States.”

Before the afternoon was out, Nobs took to the stage to play rousing harmonica alongside Switzerland’s premier blues musician Philipp Fankhauser. As a last song, Fankhauser turned to ask for a request from Jones, who was also seated on stage listening. The response: “Make it funky”. 

Quincy Jones

A man of many hats: musician, record producer, film composer, author. He has also shifted between genres in his 50 year career.

He has a record 79 Grammy nominations and has won 27 Grammy awards.

Most famous for producing Michael Jackson’s album Thriller, which sold 110 million copies, and as the producer of 1985 charity song We are the World.

Produced million-selling hit singles for Lesley Gore such as It’s my Party. Films scores include The Italian Job. Last album released in 2010.

Social activism projects include We are the Future, helping children in poor areas.

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Claude Nobs

Founder and general manager of the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Aged 31, while head of the Montreux Tourism Office, he decided to start up the festival with a budget of SFr10,000 (the budget is now over SFr20 million).

Deep Purple famously wrote the song Smoke on the Water about the festival after the casino caught fire shortly after Frank Zappa performed. Nobs saved several young people from the fire.

The programme has expanded from jazz to include pop, rock, reggae, techno and rap.

In 1990s, he shared directorship of the festival with Quincy Jones. By 2004, the festival attracted 200,000 visitors. It is now the second largest annual music festival in the world after the Montreal International Jazz festival.  

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swissinfo.ch


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