Memories Of Montreux

As the Montreux Jazz Festival marks its 40th anniversary June 30-July 15, Billboard asked musicians and executives for their memories of Montreux and its illustrious founder, Claude Nobs.

As the Montreux Jazz Festival marks its 40th anniversary June 30-July 15, Billboard asked musicians and executives for their memories of Montreux and its illustrious founder, Claude Nobs.

"Claude Nobs was a Swiss jazz fan who had a vision of a great music festival in his home country. At the very beginning, he came to see my brother, Nesuhi, who enthusiastically supported Claude's aspirations and plans. All great jazz stars and many pop stars have made their debut in this greatest of all European festivals. It has since become Europe's premier and one of the world's greatest jazz festivals. An outstandingly generous host, a great expert on food and wines, Claude has made the trip to Montreux the most delightful experience for his guest artists, and for his friends and music lovers. This is an experience no one should miss." — Atlantic Records co-founder Ahmet Ertegun

"I believe Claude Nobs' major achievement was to conflate jazz with rock, R&B and the blues in a singular festival. The magnitude of these bashes can be attested to by the great names in each field which appear year after year, and the substantial audiences that Claude manages to attract from Europe, America and God knows where else. For Claude, my embraces." — Atlantic Records co-founder Jerry Wexler

"The Montreux Jazz Festival is the best European jazz festival of them all due to Claude Nobs' astute programming of jazz, world and pop music of substance. His personal stamp is on his festival in a way that makes it a family affair for all of us, and the public as well. I was first involved with the festival back in the '70s, when I was the president of CBS Records, and we've also had Blue Note nights at Montreux several times. Highlights have been the debuts of Stanley Jordan, Rachelle Ferrell, Dianne Reeves, Gonzalo Rubalcaba. Some of my favorite memories are hanging out with the artists at Claude's chateau every year and, of course, his yearly harmonica solos sitting in with the artists." — Bruce Lundvall, president/CEO, Blue Note Records

"Claude Nobs is one of the greatest promoters in the world. He took a small town in Switzerland and made it a destination. Claude's a much greater promoter than I am. He has promoted Montreux to an unbelievable scale. He loves jazz and plays a very good blues harmonica. When Nesuhi [Ertegun] died, he and I played a blues duet, him on harmonica and me on piano. I have nothing but the greatest respect for him." — George Wein, founder/CEO, Festival Productions

"The Montreux Jazz Festival has been the yardstick by which jazz festivals are judged worldwide. I am proud to know Claude Nobs and proud to have been part of the festival on many occasions." — Phil Collins

"Nothing compares to what Claude Nobs has pulled off in Montreux, even though European festivals started by imitators like Umbria and North Sea have become successful. Claude was responsible for helping to bend the format of the jazz festival by recognizing music from all over the world and putting together groups of artists, using the improvisational quality of jazz. Claude has played favorites over the years—people like Van Morrison and Santana have performed often—and he's established relationships with artists and their management. Claude also programmed record label showcases. Back in the early '70s Fantasy had its own stage, and we also had a Stax night with a bunch of our artists like Albert King and Little Milton. Claude has presented unbelievably classy dates and generated the sense of prestige in playing at Montreux. Even so, while an act got a lot of press for playing there, that didn't necessarily translate into record sales." — Bill Belmont, producer/Fantasy Records/Concord Music Group executive

"Playing at the Montreux Jazz Festival is always one of the highlights of the year for me. It is an honor to perform alongside the many talented musicians who I admire. In fact, one of my fondest memories was this past year when Claude came up onstage and performed with me. Being a part of the Montreux Jazz Festival has always been a wonderful experience." — B.B. King

"I first played Montreux in 1975 during my first trip to Europe. We recorded a lot of the Billy Cobham/George Duke Band live album in the old Casino before it burned down. I played Montreux with Miles [Davis] in the '80s more than once and have been back a few times since. I'm glad they've been featuring jazz in the Casino again, which is a fantastic venue for the music. The Montreux Palace is one of the ultimate grand hotels. Vladimir Nabokov was in residence when I first stayed there. Amazing! Claude has always been a tremendous supporter of music and musicians, a friendly host who knows how to throw a great festival." — John Scofield

"The parties at Claude's house in the hills [above Montreux] and the wonderful music and spirit of the festival are my favorite part of being part of the festival. Claude's such an unabashed fan of the music; that enthusiasm is like a kid still after all these years; he's the heart and soul of the festival. The other great memory I have is of the legendary all-star Columbia/Sony jam which started at like 3 a.m. after we played our set with Muddy Waters. The kind of magical gathering that Montreux is famous for and what keeps us all coming back for more." — Bonnie Raitt

"There's an incredible vibe at Montreux. The scene there is exciting musically, with several different stages. It's a real music fest with a lot of variety. I played there one year on the Blue Note [Records] stage with my ‘Viva Caruso' project. It was a good, festive set. The audience is very receptive and vibrant. I heard Miles Davis there, and I also saw a Lalo Shifrin/Ray Brown concert that was a one-time show that could have only happened at Montreux." — Joe Lovano, saxophonist

"It's a great festival, a historical one, and it was a pleasure opening for Lou Reed, who has always been one of my heroes. You always meet interesting people playing there." — Suzanne Vega

"The three best reasons to go to the Montreux festival: No. 1, the cheese is great. Secondly, the Italian restaurant we all eat at, the Briganda in back of the Palace [Hotel]. The third reason is the festival. And, if you're lucky, you get to hear Claude play the harmonica." — Herb Cohen, artist manager

"The gigs in Montreux are some of the best experiences I've had while touring in Europe. I'm fortunate to have played there three times with Miles Davis and once with Michel Petrucciani. The main venue was a television studio with a packed audience, a full camera crew and very hot lights, which added to the anticipation and excitement. Because of the energy and intense vibe, I feel that artists who played there were always on top of their game. And playing there with Miles was incredibly exciting because he was at the heart of the whole scene. I'll bet in the not-too-distant future that the legacy of Claude Nobs and Montreux will be extremely important historically because Montreux was a showcase for every major European summer tour from the '70s to the present." — Adam Holzman, keyboardist

"My first introduction to Montreux was in 1973 with the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Orchestra. The festival was held in the old Casino, and people came from around the world. It was relaxed, family-oriented, with activities for children so that parents could hear their favorite groups uninterrupted. As I was young and the ‘darling' of many of our jazz legends, I was invited to sit in with Sonny Rollins and Dexter Gordon that year. I was also invited during my recording period with Elektra Records' fusion division in 1978. That was the year I discovered Etta James' live performance. I'll never forget her bare feet and the sexually suggestive things she did with her mic cord. I subsequently tried to emulate that in my live performances, with a personal twist. I returned in 1990 as the unannounced replacement for Ella Fitzgerald, who was ill, and decided with my then-manager to record the performance, ‘Dee Dee Bridgewater in Montreux,' which received a Grammy nomination. My final performance was in 1993." — Dee Dee Bridgewater

"Montreux is one of the most seminal and influential festivals in jazz history, along with George Wein's Newport Jazz Festival, the Kool Jazz Festival in New York and the Montreal Jazz Festival. Montreux has helped set the course and pace for all jazz festivals that have followed. Claude always presents a broad mix of artistic and aesthetic music . . . Claude, who had been a record company exec, did such a fantastic job of documenting so much of the music presented there. He played a critical role as an important source of recorded music in the '60s, '70s and '80s. I actually played there in 1975 in Rahsaan Roland Kirk's band as a percussionist for some tracks on his [1977] album ‘Kirkatron' for Warner Bros. As a producer, I also brought a lot of my bands there. Montreux is not only an important festival, but it's also set in one of the most physically beautiful places in the world." — Todd Barkan, producer/artistic manager of Jazz at Lincoln Center's Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola

"I have been to Montreux several times, and I have always been impressed with the production values and the setting there. All first class. I remember seeing Jeff Beck really tear the place up. Claude is a natural host and treats his artists and guests well. This is a festival that has earned its reputation and deserves accolades." — Tim Jackson, GM, Monterey Jazz Festival

"I remember asking who was running the show, and someone pointed to this young guy with wild hair dancing in the audience in the front of the stage and shouted, ‘Claude!'" — Mick Jones, Foreigner