Montreux On The Record

From the beginning of the Montreux Jazz Festival four decades ago, festival founder Claude Nobs sought to record every artist who appeared on its stages.

From the beginning of the Montreux Jazz Festival four decades ago, festival founder Claude Nobs sought to record every artist who appeared on its stages.

This resulted in several live albums by such jazz stars as Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Bill Evans.

For the festival's 10th year in 1977, Norman Granz, who originally founded the Verve jazz indie label in 1956, set up his recording equipment at Montreux for several albums issued on his new label, Pablo (later a Fantasy imprint now owned by Concord Music Group).

Granz saturated the market with jazz performances not only by his stable of stars, including Benny Carter, Milt Jackson and Ray Brown, but also freewheeling jam sessions (Granz's let-it-flow forte) led by the likes of Oscar Peterson and Count Basie.

While jazz of all stripes dominated Montreux's early history, Nobs opened up the proceedings by programming acts beyond jazz such as roots-music legend Dr. John, blues maestros King Curtis and Champion Jack Dupree, urban blues hero Stevie Ray Vaughan and soul great Marvin Gaye (not to mention hiring pop painter Keith Haring as Montreux's first artist in residence in 1983).

Of course, what put Montreux on the recorded-live-in-concert map was the legendary "Swiss Movement" album that spontaneously combusted onstage there in 1969, with jazz improvisational alchemists pianist Les McCann and tenor saxophonist Eddie Harris.

"It was hard convincing some musicians to let me tape them," Nobs once recalled. "But Montreux is a small place, and oftentimes extraordinary things happen there. So I wanted to make that available to everyone."

One of his most remarkable achievements was winning Miles Davis' trust to let the tapes roll for every single performance he made there (compiled in the monumental 2002 Columbia/Legacy 20-CD boxed set, "The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991").

"From day one, Miles was fine with the taping," Nobs says, "especially because he used the tapes after each concert to discuss the music with his band."

The total discography of titles recorded at the Montreux Jazz Festival runs well over 100 titles.

Along with the releases cited above, among the most notable titles are several now available from Eagle Vision, including Dr. John's "Live At Montreux 1995," the DVD of "Ella Fitzgerald and the Tommy Flanagan Trio(Eagle Vision);

Here is one critic's choice of 10 essential recordings from Montreux:

Les McCann/Eddie Harris, "Swiss Movement: Montreux 30th Anniversary Edition" (Atlantic/Rhino): Recorded two years into the festival's history, this soul-jazz album is considered by some to be the greatest live jazz recording of all time. McCann's vocal rendition of "Compared to What" became a crossover pop hit, with the runner-up hit being the equally funky "Cold Duck Time." This recording pushed the festival into the music world's consciousness and still stands as the banner of spontaneous brilliance associated with Montreux. A classic.

Bill Evans, "At the Montreux Jazz Festival" (Verve): Jazz pianist Bill Evans was frequently captured on tape all over the world from Paris to the classic basement New York club the Village Vanguard. His Montreux dates were also documented, including Fantasy's 1975 album, "Montreux III," with longtime bassist Eddie Gomez at his side. But his most significant date there was his 1968 debut, which resulted in the Verve disc "At the Montreux Jazz Festival," featuring Gomez and young drummer Jack DeJohnette. The album scored a Grammy Award for best instrumental small group jazz performance.

Dr. John, "Live at Montreux 1995" (Eagle Records CD, Eagle Vision DVD): The good Dr. Mac Rebennack performed six times at Montreux during his career, but deems his 1995 show his favorite set. Released on DVD in 2005, the show captures Dr. John at the piano bench and upright with his stinging electric guitar in a New Orleans gumbo groove on his best-known hits, including "Blue Skies," "Makin' Whoopie," "Iko Iko" and, of course, his signature song "Right Place, Wrong Time." For a look into the past, the DVD includes three tracks from Dr. John's 1986 visit to Montreux. The highlight from that segment is a rollicking rendition of the classic Professor Longhair tune "Tipitina."

Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble, "Live at Montreux 1982 & 1985" (Sony DVD): Released in 2004, this DVD captures the legendary Strat-blaster bluesman Stevie Ray Vaughan live at Montreux during two visits. The first, early in his career with Double Trouble, resulted in some fans booing Vaughan for his plugged-in urban blues—an event that rocked the guitarist's world while at the same time opened him to a greater audience of supporters, including fellow musicians such as David Bowie. So with his career soaring three years later, Vaughan returned to Montreux for a wholly triumphant show that included vocals by singer Johnny Copeland on three tracks.

Rachelle Farrell, "Live in Montreux" (Blue Note): Bruce Lundvall took great pride in introducing Blue Note Records label signings on Blue Note Night at Montreux. In the late '80s and early '90s, such noteworthies as Dianne Reeves, Bobby McFerrin, Stanley Jordan and Gonzalo Rubalcaba engaged in their first sets to the summer crowds at Switzerland's gala jazz party. In 1991, new Blue Note/Capitol Records talent Rachelle Ferrell made her stunning debut, wowing the crowds with her multi-octave vocals, thrilling scats and remarkable songwriting. Highlights include her renderings of Sam Cooke's "You Send Me" and the standard "My Funny Valentine." Unreleased until 2002, the disc captures Ferrell's celebrated show that catapulted her jazz and R&B careers. Also on the CD are three tracks from her 1997 Montreux appearance.

King Curtis & Champion Jack Dupree, "Blues at Montreux" (originally released in 1971 on Atlantic; reissued by Collectables in 2002): This exhilarating barrelhouse-blues session featuring pianist/vocalist Champion Jack Dupree and saxophonist King Curtis was a hastily arranged meeting of the blues champs. The results? Impromptu magic, including a long jam through "Poor Boy Blues." The album was produced by Curtis (his last recording as he died shortly thereafter) and legendary Atlantic Records producer Joel Dorn.

Marvin Gaye, "Live in Montreux, 1980" (Eagle Vision DVD): Documented four years before his death, this DVD captures the charismatic Marvin Gaye revving up a soul train of his hits, including "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," "Let's Get It On," "Inner City Blues," "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing," "Mercy Mercy Me" and "What's Going On." Dressed in the flamboyant style of the day, Gaye's brilliant performance buoys with his spirited delivery. The DVD was released in 2003.

Ella Fitzgerald & the Tommy Flanagan Trio, "Ella Fitzgerald & the Tommy Flanagan Trio '77" (Eagle Vision DVD) and "Montreux '77" (Original Jazz Classics/Fantasy CD): Originally recorded by Norman Granz's Pablo label and subsequently reissued by Fantasy's Original Jazz Classics imprint, this is the live recording of legendary jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald (60 years old at the time) with her longtime piano accompanist Tommy Flanagan and his trio. Fitzgerald is in tip-top shape, singing through such tunes as "Billie's Bounce," "I Ain't Got Nothing but the Blues" and "My Man." Earlier this year Eagle Rock Entertainment issued the DVD of the set in its series of releases from the "Norman Granz in Montreux Concerts."

Count Basie, "Count Basie Big Band '77" (Eagle Vision DVD) and "Basie Big Band: Montreux '77" (Original Jazz Classics/Fantasy CD): Yet another 2006 Eagle Rock Entertainment DVD from the Granz Montreux series, this disc captures big band leader Count Basie leading his orchestra through a superb set including "Bag of Dreams," "A Night in Tunisia" and "Fantail." This is legendary jazz material first released by Granz on the Pablo label and later reissued by Fantasy in its Original Jazz Classics series.

Miles Davis, "The Complete Miles Davis at Montreux 1973-1991" (Columbia/Legacy): It took Claude Nobs seven years to wrangle the iconic jazz trumpeter into the festival (he even had to supply him with a black Ferrari for his visit), but when Davis finally arrived he liked what he saw—so much so that he was to frequently return throughout the rest of his career. This monumental boxed set (20 CDs in all, including a rare live set recorded in Nice, France) captures every note of Davis' live performances at Montreux in the years 1973, 1984-86 and 1988-91. Significantly, it documents Miles during a time when his live material was rarely recorded. Especially significant is his final concert there, the previously issued "Miles & Quincy Live at Montreux" (licensed here from Warner Bros.), recorded a few months before the trumpeter died. (All the other tracks are previously unissued.)

"This is a pure recording," recalled Nobs, who became Davis' trusted friend over the course of their working relationship. "There are no edits or remixes. These performances were recorded and mixed live. You hear exactly what happened onstage. I would be a traitor to Miles if I did any subtracting or adding to the mix."

As for releasing such a huge boxed set -- the largest volume of any one Montreux live recording -- Nobs says, "Some people thought I should release a best-of collection or a double CD. But since all these performances are such an important piece of history, I insisted everything be issued in a limited edition for hardcore Miles fans."