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The History of the Montreux Jazz Festival: From 1967 to Present Day

The Montreux Jazz Festival is a music festival established in Montreux, Switzerland in 1967. It originally began as a 3-day festival with a smaller gathering. It has since expanded into a 2-week festival accommodating over 250,000 visitors each year. For 26 years, the Montreux Casino hosted the event. After the casino burned down during a non-Festival-related Frank Zappa performance in December 1971, the Pavillon Montreux hosted the Festival in 1972, and the Montreux Convention Centre hosted the Festival in 1973 and 1974. The Festival eventually returned to the newly rebuilt casino in 1975. Present-day, multiple locations host the Festival, including the main location, the Montreux Musique & Convention Centre.

The Festival’s founders, Claude Nobs (also a former manager of the Festival), Swiss jazz pianist and composer Géo Voumard, and René Langel had assistance from Turkish-American brothers Ahmet Ertegün and Nesuhi Ertegün in putting the Festival together. Ahmet worked as a songwriter and businessperson, and Nesuhi was a record producer and executive of Atlantic Records and WEA International.

After Nobs died in January 2013 following a skiing accident weeks prior, Mathieu Jaton took over Festival management.

When the Montreux Jazz Festival first began, it mostly featured jazz artists. Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, and Nina Simone were among the jazz performers that played the Festival in its infancy. There was a continuous expansion in music genres presented at the Festival during the 1970s, with the inclusion of blue, soul, and rock music. Artists such as Aretha Franklin, Bonnie Raitt, Roberta Flack, Marianne Faithfull, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, and Van Morrison were among the artists who played the Festival in the 1970s.

The 1980s saw artists such as Carlos Santana, Marvin Gaye, Elvis Costello, James Brown, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Bobby McFerrin, Chaka Khan, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, and Anita Baker playing the Festival.

Another expansion occurred in the 1990s, during which legendary record producer, musician, composer, and film producer Quincy Jones co-produced the Festival for a few years. During this time, artists such as Kool & the Gang, Sting, Annie Lennox, Chris Isaak, Robert Plant, Bob Dylan, The Roots, Natalie Cole, Jamiroquai, Isaac Hayes, ZZ Top, Sheryl Crow, Bootsy Collins, Blondie, Alanis Morissette, R.E.M., and Earth, Wind and Fire all performed at the Festival.

During the first decade of the millennium, artists such as Prince, Angie Stone, Lionel Richie, Mos Def, Beck Jimmy Page, Neil Young, The Temptations, David Bowie, Garbage, Muse, Radiohead, The Flaming Lips, Lenny Kravitz, Alicia Keys, Dido, Joss Stone, Cheap Trick, Patti LaBelle, PJ Harvey, and Alice Cooper all played the Festival. Common, Lauryn Hill, Deftones, the Strokes, Bryan Adams, Morrissey, Beastie Boys, The B52’s, Wu-Tang Clan, Adele, Interpol, Pharrell Williams, Wyclef Jean, and the Dave Matthews Band also played the Festival during this time.

Since 2010, artists such as Janelle Monáe, Billy Idol, Missy Elliott, Damian Marley, Ricky Martin, Nile Rodgers, Bebe Winans, Ben Harper, OutKast, Sinead O’Connor, Lady Gaga, Usher, Macy Gray, Garry Clark Jr., Alice in Chains, and Iggy Pop have performed at the Festival.

More than 1,300 music artists have performed at the Festival from 1967 to 2016. Although plenty of major artists have performed multiple times here, Herbie Hancock holds the record for performing the most times at the Festival with 27 performances. B.B. King comes in second with 21 performances.

Several artists such as Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Charles, Niles Rodgers & Chic, RUN-D.M.C., Jamiroquai, Carlos Santana, Alanis Morissette, Tori Amos, and more have also recorded and published over 400 Montreux performances as albums and DVDs that are available for sale.

Photos and performance videos from the Festival’s inception all the way through today are available for viewing on the Festival’s website, along with a Festival times line and a concert database of most (if not all) concerts that ever took place at the Festival, and posters from various years of the Festival. (Notably, there is no 1967 poster, as there was no poster for the first year of the Montreux Jazz Festival.)

In addition to the major artists at the festival, several new yet unknown singers and musicians have played at the festival as part of ongoing annual musical competitions. From at least 2010 to 2017, the festival awarded first place, second place, and third place prizes for the Parmigiani Montreux Jazz Piano Solo Competition, the Socar Montreux Jazz Electric Guitar Competition, and the Shure Montreux Jazz Voice Competition.

From 2018 on, unknown performers have participated in the Montreux Jazz Competitions & the Montreux Jazz Talent Awards that happen each year.

For the Montreux Jazz Competitions, the festival’s programmers choose who they believe will be future successful jazz performers, and each evening introduce a new band or keyboard artist on the La Coupole stage in the House of Jazz.

The Montreux Jazz Talent Awards highlight different ways of imagining jazz by combining a variety of cultures and sounds. An Artists Committee, composed of well-known musicians at the festival, will review demos from 16 artists. A second jury judges the artists during their live performances.

They then give out three awards: the Parmigiani Montreux Jazz Solo Keys Award, the Shure Montreux Jazz Band Award, and the Fairmont European Tour Award.

Outside of all the musical performances and events occurring at the Montreux Jazz Festival, guests are also encouraged to go sightseeing around Montreux and the surrounding areas. Montreux sits on the edge of Lake Geneva with a view of the Alps. The festival has a team of people that are available to guide guests in and around Montreux. There is plenty of scenery and local food to enjoy, especially at the Montreux Jazz Café (also founded by Festival creator Claude Nobs). According to the Festival’s website, the café has a menu that features dishes named after famous jazz musicians and other musical influencers, such as “the famous B.B. Burger, Coquelet façon Quincy Jones, and the succulent Ella’s Cheesecake”. You can review the menu and learn more about the café (& its other five locations) by visiting the Montreux Jazz Café website. Additional information about other restaurants, food stalls, and bars are available on the Food and Beverage page of the Montreux Jazz Festival website.

Some things most newcomers might not expect or be aware of at the Montreux Jazz Festival are the following:

  • A free childcare center is available for parents who want to enjoy part of the Festival without their children. The center is open daily, beginning at 2 p.m., and closes at 1 a.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday. (NOTE: Kids can only stay for a maximum of 4 hours.)
  • There is an entertainment area for kids and teenagers called Young Planet that provides safe smoke-free and alcohol-free entertainment and partying. It is lakefront and there is no admission fee. Young Planet is open from 5 p.m. to midnight Monday through Friday, and 2 p.m. to midnight Saturday and Sunday.
  • The Festival staff and management is very serious about keeping the Festival area clean and eco-friendly. That includes daily cleaning all around the Festival area and carpooling transportation options for festivalgoers in order to keep car pollution and greenhouse gas emissions at a minimum. More details are available on the Festival’s Sustainable Development page.
  • There is a designated area on the lakeside promenade called “Prev’ Spot” that provides a meet-up location for festivalgoers. It also has an initiative-supported open discussion forum concerning safety and risk prevention when it comes to alcohol, drugs, and sexual activity. More information is available on the Montreux Jazz Festival’s Social Responsibility page.
  • If you’re going sightseeing, you can go and view the statue of Queen’s lead singer, Freddie Mercury, near Lake Geneva. One of Mercury’s homes was in Montreux, so they think of him as one of their own.
  • The Festival site does have some accessibilities for persons with disabilities. There is a designated accessibility station near the main Festival entrance for any inquiries or additional assistance needed. There is also a discounted transportation rate available, reserved parking near the Convention Centre (which is free of charge), conveniently located handicap-accessible toilets at all ticketed concert venues, and two dedicated accessible toilets available on the lakefront promenade. There is even a special Festival ticket offer available. (Note that concert tickets for persons with disabilities must be purchased prior to the Festival. Reservations made on the day of a concert won’t be accepted due to limited seating availability.)

This year, the Montreux Jazz Festival will be held from Friday, June 28 through Friday, July 13. This year’s lineup includes Elton John, ZZ Top, Bobby McFerrin, and more. Tickets, along with a full lineup and program list will be available beginning in early April. For more information on where to set up your flight(s) and purchase tickets, including packages, passes, and group orders, visit the Destinations by Design website. Additional information about parking and bus rides to the Festival are available on the Transport page of the Montreux Jazz Festival website

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