Montreux Jazz Festival

montreux 1983

The Montreux Jazz Festival is the best-known music festival in Switzerland and one of the most prestigious in Europe; it is held annually in early July in Montreux on the shores of Lake Geneva. It is the second largest annual music festival in the world after Canada’s Montreal International Jazz Festival. The festival was founded in 1967 by Claude Nobs (who still organizes the event); the first one lasted for three days and featured almost exclusively jazz artists.

The highlights of this era were Keith Jarrett, Jack DeJohnette, Bill Evans, Soft Machine, Weather Report, Nina Simone, Jan Garbarek, and Ella Fitzgerald. Originally a pure jazz festival, it opened up in the 1970s and today presents artists of nearly every imaginable style, though jazz remains an important component. Today’s festival lasts about two weeks and attracts an audience of more than 200,000 people.

In the 1970s, the festival began broadening its scope, including blues, soul, and rock artists, for instance Marianne Faithfull, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Frank Zappa, Deep Purple, Prince and many others. 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 and 1980. Miles Davis came to Montreux several times, also British hard rock band Deep Purple were invited as headliners five times.

The festival was originally held at the old Montreux Casino, which burned down in December 1971 during Frank Zappa’s performance. (‘Smoke on the Water’ by Deep Purple tells that story.) The expansion that began in the 1980s has continued since then — Montreux transformed from a jazz festival into a world music festival. Quincy Jones co-produced the festival from 1991 to 1993. By 1993, the festival had outgrown the Casino and moved to the larger Convention Center. The number of visitors rose from 75,000 in 1980 to 120,000 in 1994, and an ‘Off-festival’ developed on the lake shore promenades and in the cafés of Montreux.

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