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Montreux celebrates 40 years of all that jazz

Claude Nobs plays the harmonica with the Blues Brothers Band in 1988 Keystone

A star-studded cast of musicians is set to wow the public at the 40th anniversary of the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival, which kicked off on Friday.

This content was published on June 30, 2006 - 18:09

Featuring a stylistic mix of sounds - pop, jazz, avant-garde and rock - the festival, as always, bears the imprint of its charismatic founder, Claude Nobs.

The 70-year-old Nobs has lined up a number of musical legends for this year's concert series, including B.B. King, Al Jarreau, Van Morrison, Deep Purple, Sting and Bryan Adams.

There will also be two evenings of concerts dedicated to the founders of Atlantic Records, the Ertegun brothers, who supported Nobs through the years.

It was in the 1960s when Nobs was working as a bookkeeper at the Montreux tourist office that he made a trip to New York where he arranged a meeting with Nesuhi Ertegun.

Nobs got the first festival off the ground in 1967 and it was not long after that Nesuhi helped him convince such performers as Roberta Flack and Aretha Franklin to make their European debuts at Montreux.

Free-jazz saxophonist Ornette Coleman and bossa nova star Sergio Mendes, who is performing for the first time at Montreux, will take the stage for the homage to Nesuhi on July 2.

The eclectic music mix is typical of Nobs. From the very beginning his festival was not to be pigeonholed, and he has always successfully walked a fine line, running an event with both artistic and commercial impulses.

Gossip

The Montreux director got radio and television stations to broadcast the shows from the start. The main partners were French-speaking Swiss television and the Union of European Radio Stations.

By 1973, the festival was extended to two weeks and had already become one of the largest of its kind in Europe.

Much of what took place in Montreux lent itself to gossip. Nevertheless Nobs continued to set trends and take chances with groundbreaking bands, booking, for example, acts belonging to new age record label "Windham Hill" at a time when they did not have much of a following.

Yet, the festival is remembered most for legendary performances by the likes of Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Roland Kirk, Cecil Taylor and Archie Shepp.

Smoke on the water

During a Frank Zappa concert in 1971, the Montreux casino burned to the ground. The resulting Deep Purple hit, "Smoke on the Water", elevated the festival to cult status.

From Montreux's beginning, almost all performances were recorded. The first disc was "Live at Montreux" with the Bill Evans Trio in 1968.

Since then, hundreds of records, CDs and DVDs bearing the label, "Live in Montreux" have been produced. The allure of "Montreux" shows no sign of abating.

But one famous concert was never recorded, the first appearance of Bob Dylan at Montreux in 1994. Following the concert, Dylan told Nobs, "I hope you recorded my concert, it was my best in years".

"No, I didn't", answered Nobs. "You don't allow it."

swissinfo

In brief

Claude Nobs brought the Rolling Stones to Montreux in 1964 for their first performance on the European continent.

That allowed Nobs, who by his own admission had no real affinity with numbers, to give up his job as an accountant at the Montreux tourist office.

The first Montreux Jazz Festival in 1967 lasted three days and had a budget of SFr10,000 ($8,000). The 2006 budget is SFr 18.2 million.

This year's festival takes place from June 30 to July 15. It marks its 40th anniversary.

Jeff Beck, David Sanborn, Massive Attack, Bryan Adams, Sting, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Taj Mahal and Charles Lloyd, and others, will be performing.

Nobs celebrated his 70th birthday in February of this year.

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