Montreux Jazz rolls out rock legends in Zermatt

The Montreux Jazz news conference took place in the shadow of the famous Matterhorn mountain in Zermatt

Despite being outwitted by an online pirate, the organisers of the 45th Montreux Jazz Festival were all smiles at this week's launch of the programme in Zermatt.

This content was published on April 16, 2011
Bernard Lechot in Zermatt,

At 1,600 metres the sun was shining and the spring air was fresh. But Thursday’s press reception was a lot less chilly than the atmosphere faced by the organisers two days earlier when they learned that the line-up had been leaked onto the internet.

On arrival in Zermatt, it was clear the leak was not a major issue, however; this way the media talk about the festival several days in a row, the organisers said.

Thomas Sterchi, head of the ongoing “Zermatt Unplugged” music festival and conference host, could not hide his enthusiasm.

“The Montreux Jazz Festival is a little bit our model,” he told reporters on Wednesday.

Next up, Montreux Jazz founder Claude Nobs regaled those present with tales of how he took rock group Deep Purple to see the Matterhorn in December 1971 just after the recording of the Machine Head album, with the famous “Smoke on the Water” track, inspired by a fire at Montreux Casino.

This was followed by similar pilgrimages to the Valais mountain resort with Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin and others, he recounted.

Smoking strings

Back to the future, Nobs continues to doff his hat to the rock and jazz giants of the 20th century.

Deep Purple will once again be playing at Montreux to celebrate 40 years of “Smoke on the Water”, but this time with a symphony orchestra. Nobs has also managed to persuade British composer and keyboardist Jon Lord, who co-founded the group, to mix the sound.

Collaborations by the usual suspects are all the rage this year.

Guitarists Carlos Santana and John McLaughlin will open the festival on July 1 for a revival of their studio album Love Devotion Surrender, recorded in 1973.

Blues guitarist and Montreux regular B.B. King will invite Santana and McLaughlin to join him on the Stravinski Auditorium stage on July 3, preceded by a more intimate blues club affair the day before in the Miles Davis Hall.

Gumbo and hip hop

Star producer Quincy Jones will present “A night of global gumbo” on July 13 with the Alfredo Rodriguez Trio and Esperanza Spalding followed by a tribute to Miles Davis with Marcus Miller, Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter.

“It’s a satisfaction for me but it’s especially gratifying for the musician who has the chance to propose something that will not be presented during their world tour. Santana and John McLaughlin is an extraordinary event for me,” Nobs told

Other typical Montreux-style mash-ups include a homage to producer Tommy LiPuma on July 5 with George Benson, Diana Krall and Randy Crawford and a 30th birthday tribute on July 15 to hip hop label Tommy Boy Records with Afrika Bambaataa, Prince Paul, Naughty by Nature and Digital Underground to name but a few.

Other concerts are by Arcade Fire, Paul Simon, Ricky Martin and Sting, which has already sold out.

Luck, name and good friends

With a growing number of music festivals in Switzerland and Europe, how does the Montreux Jazz Festival hope to stand out?

“We try to show off our strengths each time. It’s true that the musical world has changed and tours are much more planned in advance. You therefore need some luck – and be able to generate luck,” said Mathieu Jaton, the secretary general of the festival and Nobs’s likely successor.

“This year just think, Santana is dedicating three days to Montreux – July 1-3 – dates when there are many other European festivals. That’s true friendship. Getting Arcade Fire might not be down to the same kind of friendship as with Carlos Santana, but it was possible thanks to Montreux’s reputation worldwide, the quality of the festival and the welcome artists get from Claude,” he added.

This year Montreux features many established stars, less “adventurous” choices and a balancing act between the festival’s two main concert halls: the Stravinski Auditorium and the smaller Miles Davis Hall.

Balance the big shots

The main objective is to balance the financial books and to give each hall an equal shot with big name artists. Lisa Minelli, for her first Montreux appearance, will sing on the Miles Davis Hall stage on July 15 with just a table and chairs.

The changes are also partly linked to the departure last year of festival organiser Lori Immi, who stamped her mark on the Miles Davis line-ups with up-and-coming artists and lesser-known sounds.

“There is no more competition between the two concert halls which existed slightly beforehand,” said Nobs, who now collaborates with Michaela Maitherth on the line-ups.
This is a general process that started in 2007, Jaton added.

“We have re-centred our activities on the two halls, on top of which is the important role of the [free] Montreux Jazz Café concert hall and our international development.”

After launching their first Montreux Jazz themed café at Geneva airport in 2008, Nobs hopes to open another at the Gare de Lyon in Paris in 2012, followed by others in London, New York and other capitals around the world.

Montreux Jazz Festival

The 45th Montreux Jazz Festival will be held from July 1-16.

Budget: SFr21 million ($23.5 million).

In 2010 there were 90 groups, 260 concerts and free DJ sets, and 230,000 visitors.

Founder Claude Nobs was born in Territet near Montreux in 1936. His love of jazz and rhythm and blues led him to organise concerts in the region.

He founded the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1967. Other types of music have since supplemented the jazz concerts, including pop, rock, blues, Brazilian, reggae, rap and techno.

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