Claude Nobs, the much-admired founder/GM of the Montreux Jazz Festival, died Jan. 10 following a skiing accident near his home in Montreux, Switzerland, on Dec. 24. He was 76.
Immortalized as “Funky Claude” in the Deep Purple song “Smoke on the Water,” Nobs was born Feb. 4, 1936, in the Swiss village of Territet in the Vaud canton, and initially trained as a chef before joining the Montreux Tourist Board in 1960. The following year, he helped launch the Golden Rose Festival of Television (Rose D’Or) and began booking concerts by visiting blues artists. One of his first big shows was a 1964 co-production with British TV show “Ready Steady Go” featuring performances by the Rolling Stones and Petula Clark.
In 1966, Nobs traveled to New York and cold-called Atlantic Records co-founder Nesuhi Ertegun. “It was an instant connection. Then each time I had a dream or a wish, I would go to him,” Nobs told Billboard in an interview in 1996. The Montreux Jazz Festival subsequently bowed in 1967 and quickly became recognized as a key event in the world music calendar. In 1973, Nobs was appointed director of the Swiss branch of WEA, enabling him to attract ever bigger names to Montreux.
“Claude was a valued and trusted friend and brother to me for close to 40 years, but he was a valued and trusted friend to jazz and the artists who create it for his entire lifetime,” says music producer Quincy Jones, who began co-producing the Montreux Jazz Festival in the early ’90s. International Talent Booking director Barry Dickins calls Nobs “a very special man who I will miss greatly. He always put quality first and wasn’t governed by financial gain…I am looking forward to working with Claude again at the Heaven Jazz Festival, which I am sure he will put together.”