Montreux Jazz Festival

From Academic Kids

Festival poster of 1983
Poster designed by Keith Haring

The Montreux Jazz Festival is the best-known music festival in Switzerland. It is held annually in early July in Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva.

It is not to be confused with the also well-known Montreal Jazz Festival (Le Festival International de Jazz de Montréal), an annual event held in Montreal, Quebec, Canada.

The first Montreux Jazz Festival was held in 1967; it lasted three days. The festival originally was a pure jazz festival, but it opened up in the 1970s and today presents artists of nearly every imaginable music style. Still, jazz remains an important part of the festival. Today's festival lasts about two weeks and attracts an audience of more than 200,000 people.

The Montreux Jazz Festival is undeniably one of the major European music festivals. The initiator and—as of 2004—still the head organizer, Claude Nobs, has managed to bring an amazing array of top-notch artists to Montreux, both established ones and newcomers. The roster of artists who have played at Montreux reads like a "Who's who" of the music scene (see, for example, [1] (


The festival was originally held at the old Montreux Casino, which burned down in December 1971. ("Smoke on the Water" from Deep Purple tells that story.) The festival was held then in other auditoriums in Montreux, until it could return to the rebuilt new Casino in 1975. The festival continued to grow, and in 1993, it moved to the larger Convention Centre. Since 1995, it has occupied both the Convention Centre and the Casino.

The beginnings: a solid jazz event

In 1967, the first Montreux Jazz Festival opened its doors. The festival lasted for three days and featured almost exclusively jazz artists. The highlights of this era were Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Evans, Nina Simone, Jan Garbarek, and Ella Fitzgerald.

In the 1970s, the festival began broadening its scope, including blues, soul, and rock artists. In December 1971, the Casino burned down, and the festival was forced to move until the new Casino was ready in 1975. The festival had grown to a two-week duration.

Towards the end of the decade, the festival expanded even more, including music from all continents (with an emphasis on Brazilian music) and lasting a full three weeks. Santana came to Montreux for the first time in 1970; Van Morrison played in 1974. Other artists included Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Stan Getz, Sonny Rollins, Airto Moreira, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Charles Mingus, Etta James, Sonny Rollins, Count Basie, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, B.B. King, Gilberto Gil, Ray Charles, and many more.

Extreme expansion

The festival changed in the 1980s: It started growing dramatically and included an even wider variety of music styles. Jazz remained important, but more and more rock and pop artists were also invited, and Brazilian music remained important.

Festival poster of 1986
20th anniversary poster (1986) designed by Andy Warhol and Keith Haring

Miles Davis came to Montreux several times, Santana returned in 1980. Other notable artists at Montreux were Max Roach, James Brown, Wynton Marsalis, Art Blakey, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, and Al Di Meola but also Elvis Costello, Jimmy Cliff, Mike Oldfield, Marvin Gaye, Leonard Cohen, Nina Hagen, Eric Clapton, Phil Collins, Joe Cocker, Los Lobos, The Manhattan Transfer, Tracy Chapman, and Van Morrison again.

The expansion that began in the 1980s continued in the 1990s and the 2000s — Montreux definitely transformed from a jazz festival into a world music festival. Quincy Jones coproduced the festival from 1991 to 1993. By 1993, the festival had outgrown the Casino and moved to the larger Convention Centre. The number of visitors rose from 75,000 in 1980 to 120,000 in 1994, and an "Off-festival" developed on the lakeshore promenades and in the cafés of Montreux.

Many "regulars" returned, but many new artists also appeared on stage: Sting, Bob Dylan, Fats Domino, Deep Purple, Al Jarreau, Chaka Khan, Johnny Cash, Cheb Mami, Youssou N'Dour, Marianne Faithfull, Ice T, Jazzmatazz, ZZ Top, Simply Red, Eric Clapton, Marisa Monte, George Benson, Jazzkantine, Alanis Morissette, David Bowie, Paul Simon... In 1999, the festival saw more than 220,000 visitors.

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