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Montreux festival offers jazz and much more

B.B. King is a regular guest at Montreux. Montreux Jazz Festival

The 36th Montreux Jazz Festival is in full swing after opening concerts by Blues legend B.B. King and other star performers.

This content was published on July 8, 2002 - 09:03

Veteran soul singer, Isaac Hayes, provided one of the highlights of the opening weekend, while Chris Rea made a comeback after years of illness.

Since its birth, the event has grown into a giant beyond the wildest dreams of successive organising teams around its founder and driving force Claude Nobs, who is still festival director.

The 1967 budget for what began as something for jazz purists was SFr10,000 ($6,650). This year it's SFr16 million and the festival has long since embraced numerous other categories, including rock, blues and Brazilian music.

Says Nobs: "Jazz purists as well as fans of rock, pop, reggae, world music and electronic sounds will not be disappointed. As always there is going to be something for everybody."

Music on trains

Nearly 270 concerts are scheduled, 200 of them free of charge. The festival will also be on the move, with concerts on special trains through the nearby mountains and on boat-trips across Lake Geneva.

Among performers making their first Montreux festival appearance are David Bowie and Paul Simon, while regular guests such as Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett are also performing.

Open-air lakeside concerts - known as the "OFF Festival" - will as usual feature up-and-coming younger performers, as will the Montreux Jazz Café, which like the open-air venues, has no entry charges. Another innovation is the Montreux Jazz Young Planet, where teenagers can enjoy music in a strictly no smoking, no alcohol environment.

The scale of the festival requires over 1,000 volunteer helpers to supplement the professional behind-the-scenes staff. Among the latter is Stéphanie Moretti, now in her 13th year as an organiser.

Improvisation

"When I started there was one computer and one fax machine for the whole office," she told swissinfo. "Now there's a much less an air of improvisation about the organisation and more people around to make the decisions. Everything has to be decided in advance, including the negotiation of audio and television rights with artistes, their agents and the record labels."

The festival has accumulated a vast archive of concert recordings over the past 36 years, which Moretti describes as "a history of jazz for future generations".

Her responsibilities also include helping organise an international solo piano competition, as well as the workshops and master classes accompanying it. Moretti speaks enthusiastically about this aspect of the festival, saying that it offers talented young musicians from all over the world an opportunity to meet, compete and spend their evenings together watching concerts. "For them it's an experience that can affect their professional future," she says.

Star guests

For the star guests too, Montreux has a powerful appeal - and not just because of the chance to perform at a world-renowned event before a discerning audience.

"We're very lucky here because Montreux is such a beautiful place," added Moretti. "When the musicians are on tour they always like to take a few days off, and know that here they can expect to be well-treated and stay in a good hotel with a view of Lake Geneva. There's a very happy atmosphere."

One major consequence of the festival has been to bring up-to-date the somewhat staid atmosphere of the resort - even though it still retains a great deal of period charm.

Paying tribute to director Claude Nobs, a local newspaper "La Presse" recently noted: "If Montreux is no longer [simply] regarded as a place for retired English people, it's thanks to him."

by Richard Dawson

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