Montreaux jazz – a class act 12 Jul 2005
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It’s a sensation of carnavalesque proportions and it’s almost on our back doorstep. MARTY FREE discovers the sights and sounds of the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Montreux is majestic in June. The weather is warming up and the school year is winding down.
There’s a market on the boardwalk on Fridays and a palpable buzz in the air as the internationally acclaimed annual Montreux Jazz Festival is fast approaching.
In just a few days, this placid paradise will ring with music of all descriptions; jazz, rock, blues, reggae, electronica – you name it, it’s here.
To call it a jazz festival is almost a misnomer, it doesn’t convey the range of artists who grace the bill these days.
This year sees as diverse a programme as ever.
Tori McRae sold out within hours, but there’s still more than anyone can possibly see in the two weeks from July 1 to 16.
Queens of the Stoneage, Garbage, Crosby, Stills and Nash with Steve Earle supporting.
Elvis Costello, Kasabian and The Bravery, Brian Wilson on his Smile album tour with Ibrahim Frerrer and the Buena Vista Social Club, Audioslave and Isis. Soul legends Billy Preston with Booker T and The MGs and Isaac Hayes on the same freaking stage!
Stalwarts such as George Benson, David Sanborn, Oscar Peterson and Jean Luc Ponty are back.
So is BB King, together this year with Robert Cray and Solomon Burke. King, as did Freddie Mercury, loves it so much he bought property here.
It’s easy to see why. To the east, the pre-Alps angle steeply from the shore. They run to the south behind Villeneuve and Aigle where they divide and flank the Rhone valley.
Around the northern edge of the croissant shaped lake lies Lausanne and if it wasn’t for the French Alps rising up from Evian, you could see right across to Geneva at Lac Leman’s southern most shore.
Hopefully Queenstown will remain this beautiful after centuries of settlement. Here, history is dignified and alive everywhere you look.
Thirty-nine years ago when festival director Claude Nobs conceived this baby as a tourist office employee, its future success was beyond his wildest dreams.
These days he resides comfortably in Caux, a small hamlet perched precariously on the hillside above Montreux, with one of the most breathtaking vistas imaginable.
Now a sprightly septuagenarian, but looking a good 20-years younger, Nobs has nurtured the festival to its present profile on a diet of dreams and determination, artfully accommodating contemporary musical styles alongside the event’s renown roster of the world’s best jazz artists.
Thanks to his vision and the festival’s continuing viability, Switzerland has become an early springboard into the European summer touring circuit for many acts.
Festivals have blossomed like Edelweiss across the country as promoters seek to emulate Montreux success.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Nobs is a beacon in a sea of sycophancy.
Some, like the Paleo festival at Nyon and Bern’s Gurten festival, have achieved longevity by catering to a young demographic, but none approach the variety, style or comfort levels of Montreux.
For two weeks, the town undergoes a transformation, even adopting its own on-site currency, the "Jazz" token, for use in the official venues and bars.
The party is relentless. The festival site spans the lakefront from the 3500 seat Auditorium Stravinsky and adjoining 2000 capacity Miles Davis Hall to the 1000 seat Casino Barriere, with shows from 8.30pm.
Jazz Trains run daily from 2pm, offering spectacular lake and mountain scenery.
Jazz Boats ply the lake with blues, reggae and Latin bands. Four free open air concert stages and the late night venues, Montreux Jazz Club and Montreux Jazz Cafe complete the official programme.
While Glastonbury has mud and Reykjavik is cold, Montreux has class, five-star hotels and Michelin star restaurants.
It’s an icon, a musical Mecca. Make the pilgrimage – it won’t be your last.
• For further information visit www.montreuxjazz.com.
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