Switzerland - Montreux Jazz Festival

by Kimp 13. July 2013 03:18

Photo Blog

My History
I started playing Trombone in the 5th grade and that's also when I cemented a relationship with another Trombone player named Jim, who was to become one of my close and life long friends. Not long after Jim and I started playing, we were asked to play for the parents of other kids in the band. That was a big hit and later that week a teacher who had heard us play, asked us to play in front of a school assembly. We played a slightly jazzed up version of "When the Saint's go marching in." That's when I fell in love with Jazz.
Around that same time, I was in a record store (everything was on records in those days) and discovered the Jazz section. As I was perusing through the Jazz albums I noticed a common motif. Lots of jazz musicians had albums entitled "Live from Montreux". That's when Montreux went on my bucket list. However, realistically, I didn't think I would ever make it there.
I'd been to Montreux several times (love all of Switzerland, except for the expense, any time of year), but never made it to the Jazz Festival until this year. And it was a lot nicer then I had envisioned. It exceed, even my vision of heaven. If heaven is nicer then Montruex during the Jazz festival, then I sure hope I'm going.
The Montreux Jazz festival was also the very last thing on my bucket list. What do I do now???
Montreux Jazz Festival History
Jazz migrated to Europe during World War II, then the American Soldiers joined the allied cause. After World War II, jazz flourished in Europe. 
In the mid 60's an up and coming American Jazz producer named Quincy Jones started a label in Montreux and appointed Claude Knobs as the manager. Claude was also the director of the Tourism Office of Montreux. In 1967 Claude started the Montreux Jazz Festival at the Montreux Casino. Immediately, it was a huge hit. In 1970 Calude decided to open it up to popular musician's who were outside of the Jazz idiom but whom had made a difference in music. He also added a new layer which consisted of new and upcoming musicians, who have a lot of talent, but deviate from the main stream.
Claude died just a few months before this years festival, but his memory is still very much alive, in many of the big name musician's, who performed or attended this year.
Artistic Theme
Every year, the Montreux Jazz Festival has a different theme for its outdoor art. This year it was based on the song "Like a Tree" by Maxime Le Forestier. The lyrics are tell the story, that after people have completely destroyed the earth (an apocalypse), nature will come back and reclaim the land. Love the concept and loved the art. However, untrue to the theme, there was nothing natural in the art. It was all definitely touched and arranged and manicured and maintained by humans. Nature's growth is dictated by so many variables that it appears to be uncontrolled and human's want to control all aspects of it. 
Where I stayed
I booked a hotel a long time ago (like 9 months before) and managed to find a really nice one that was at a decent price and was right on Lake Geneva. Even that early, everything else was very expensive. Like me, they know the festival schedule. Not sure why that one was so cheap, but I probably cashed in on a mistake that someone had made. It was about a 2k (1 mi) walk down the path around the lake from the festival, but that actually made it nice and peaceful (See map and captions in photos).
My Arrival
I was feeling pretty sick when I arrived, so I asked a dude at the hotel where I staying, if it was OK, for me to just leave my car parked out front for a few hours, while I rested. Then I promised to find a parking area to move it into. The dude raises his hand and snaps his fingers. I could see another dude scurrying over to see what he wanted, as he said to me, "Yes sir, mister Kimpel. Please wait out front and I'll send someone right out to tell me where to park it."
I figured a dude was just going to come out and point somewhere. A few minutes later the dude that was running over, appeared out front, shortly followed by three dudes wearing black tuxedos, and sporting white gloves, who stood at attention in front of him. He commenced to instruct them to move these huge, heavy planters, out of the way, so I could park my car where they had been sitting. Pretty much inches away from the front door.  About 10 minutes later, the planters had been moved, and the three dudes, who were now sweating profusely, were back at attention awaiting the bosses approval. The boss, sends them to make a few adjustments, then releases them to go back inside, after which, he gives me instructions on parking my car, inches away from the front door.
I park my car according to the bosses instructions and am getting my bags out of the car, when I notice a women, adorned  in some powerful looking business attire, looking directly at me with a disgruntled look on her face. Not sure what was going on, so I politely ask her if there is a problem. "Yes, please move your car over here.", as she proceeded back inside. I'm figuring that I am going to have to look for a place to park my car in town, but I load my bags back in the car, move it as directed, and wait. 
This time, as I 'm getting out of my car, she reappears followed by the same three dudes wearing black tuxedos, sporting white gloves and still sweating profusely.  She commences to instruct them to put the planter's back exactly where they had been in the first place.  This is when I figured it out. She was either the owner or the owners wife, who had hand picked those plants as decorations, and carefully put a lot of thought into exactly where they should go to never be moved again.
About 10 minutes later, the planters had been moved back, and the three dudes, who now looked completely exhausted, were back at attention awaiting approval. The women, sends them to make a few adjustments, then releases them to go back inside, after which, she gives me stern instructions on parking my car. "Back it in sideways, right here, make sure it's angled like so and don't hit the hotel nor that planter that is in the back.". I cautiously, but nervously followed her instruction, as she watched. I get out and ask her if that is good. "Yes and you can leave it there for your whole stay.". I managed to squeak out ,a "Thank you ma'am, that was very kind of you.", as she was disappearing inside.
I guess she must have liked the look of my vintage Beamer in front of her fine hotel.  The rest of the time that I was there, I did everything I could to avoid the dudes in the black Tux's. They are going to be talking about that day for the rest of their lives.
The Hotel and the Venues are very expensive, so four basic types of people tend to visit in large numbers. People around my age from all over the world, who attend the shows, sometimes eat at restaurants, purchase the expensive drinks at the venues or at the festival, and take it slow and easy. Another type are young people from Switzerland, who come to hang out with their friends, see the free shows, eat the festival food (they have junk food from around the world at this festival), bring their own drinks, and live the fast life. A third type, though small in numbers are backpackers passing through, who stop for a day or two.  And the last type, backpacking musicians who are just plain happy to be here, even if they're eating and sleeping on the cheap (from the grocery store and under the stars).
The Venues
Venue  format
Their are usually two bands per major venue and the prices are fairly step. However, usually they are two very big name acts (Multiple Grammy Winners and/or Hall of famers ) and the venues are very small. For instance, ZZ-top can easily fill up a stadium and they played in Montreux, in an Auditorium, that only held 4,000. The biggest name act always plays the first set. Then there is a 30 minute break while the equipment is swapped out. Then the lesser big name act plays second. I like that format, because some of the people either don't show up for the second act or stay a short while and filter out during the second act. It becomes relaxed and intimate. Plus you can get something to eat or drink in-between. If the big name was on second, then nobody would want to leave and loose their place. The Auditorium is general admission on the floor, so there are not any chairs and its first come, first serve. There is a balcony that has assigned seats, but you pay VIP prices up there.
They often play lots of encores and usually several other musicians come out and play during the encores. The usual scenario goes like this. They leave the stage and back stage they run into an old friend who came to see them. The friend gets invited out for an encore. Then that scenario repeats about another 5 times, until the stage is packed with big name talent. A lot of these bands are touring all of the time, so they don't ever run into their friends when they are playing a gig. This is a special treat for all of them.
Stravinski Auditorium
Capacity 3500, but pretty sure they pack 4000 into it. In the past it had seats, but this year it was general admission standing room (same as most European Venues that don't have permanent seats). There is a small balcony that has seats, but those are much more expensive.
Montreux Jazz Club
Capacity 350. Set up like an old Comedy/Cabaret/Jazz club with small tables near the stage. Tries to create an intimate and smoky atmosphere like the old jazz clubs, but was way to nice to pull it off. It's a tourist version of an old jazz club.  
Montreux Jazz Lab
Capacity 2000. This is a new experience for experimentation in the Audio Visual realm. Did not attend that this year, so not sure exactly what the set up is.
Montreux Jazz Creations
Stages at the Montreux Palace, Chillon Chateau, and the Trois Couronnes, host creative and lively tributes to the styles and artists who have marked the history of music.
Montreux Jazz Boats
Themed boats for the lively partying crowd. This year there was a Brazil theme, a Salsa Theme, and a Funky Theme boat.
Montreux Jazz Trains
Two trains with live jazz for the more relaxed partying crowd.
Montreux Jazz Workshops (Free)
Just like they sound. A jazz clinic where you can get into the heads of the musicians.
Music in the Park (Free)
A jam session that starts as soon as the sun goes down and ends early in the morning.
The Studio (Free)
An outdoor club that holds 1000 people. Starts at 11 P.M. and musicians sometimes stop by here to jam after their shows. Ends sometime before sun up.
A whole bunch of theme bars and the Montreux Jazz Café
Not really a venue but where some people hang out.
Jazz Mass
Some of the churches host a Jazz Mass on Sunday.
Artists that I saw
ZZ Top
Texas Bluesmen and Rock-and-Roll hall of famers, from as far back as Jimi Hendrix. 
George Throrogood and the Delaware Destroyers
Old time Boogie Blues artist from Delaware. When I lived in upstate New York, George was a huge hit with the college crowd. Have seen him many times, always enjoyed his shows, and he is pretty much still the same. Energetic and entertaining.
Sugar Blue
Sugar Blue is a very high energy, 65 year old Grammy award winning Harp player and bluesman.
Here's a nice short sample (his wife, an excellent bass player, is on this as well): http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7EmDnJHAKqc. Raised in Harlem, he mostly plays Chicago Blues. He moved to Paris in the 70's, meet the rolling stones and was featured on several Rolling Stones tunes in the late 70's. Mick Jagger says that Sugar Blue is a very strange and talented musician. His band was stocked full of great talent as well. His Italian keyboard player, besides being awesome, is really creative. Check him out playing the accordion (and the dude playing the water drums) here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MgmvbKCZoGc . His wife is Italian bassist Ilaria Lantieri. Ilaria is a world class musician. Her rhythm is right on the money and she makes complex bass passages look easy. Playing a 6 string bass, which has one string that is lower then a normal bass and one string that is higher then a normal bass. She covers the whole range with ease. 
Shemekia Copeland
I was watching Shemeika, when Sugar Blue came out from back stage and sat in a chair next to me towards the end of her set. Later she came out for an encore and Sugar joined her on stage and played a song with her, that he hadn't played since he had recorded it with her about 10 years ago and hasn't played since. Early in her career, Shemekia had asked several old timer's to record with her and everyone had turned her down except Sugar Blue. She thought that maybe he saw something in her, but found out later that he only accepted because he was a good friend of her fathers (Bluesman, Ray Copeland).
The auditorium is general admission, so the first people in get the pick of their position, but it also means that there are not any seats. I performed some very strategic pre-entrance maneuvers that allowed me to arrive 60 minutes before the show and still sit down for the 30 minutes before they let us in. I managed to get a spot about 20 people deep of the stage. However, up that close the bodies are packed so tight that I couldn't move my feet at all without stepping on someone else's food. I was in physical contract with 8 other people (front, back, each side and every diagonal) for the whole performance.  
Princes backup section is called the New Power Generation (NPG). He brought a mostly female rhythm section that, besides being talented, could have all been models. Along with a ten piece jazz horn section and a professional dancer. The whole concert was pretty much just a big jam session.  Prince does a lot of stunts where he just slams down on the floor. I think he was a little out of shape, cause he would be down for a long time, and I would see the dancer making her way over to him and bending down to see if he was alright. Prince is a great guitar player, but on the day I saw him (1st day), he didn't even get his guitar out and play until the encore: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OmX3lDan4JY .
Bonnie Raitt
I always loved Bonnie's low, raspy, and slightly rough around the edges voice. She created her own fusion of Mississippi Delta Blues, folk and country. As if that wasn't sweet enough, she added lyrics that burn into your sole. I think she has about a zillion Grammy's. An amazing talent that is impossible to imitate nor reproduce. She said that there are a bunch of twenty year old people who are just now discovering her, and she is starting to experience yet another round of popularity. Bonnie performed 5 encores. She said that every time she went back stage, another musician that she always wanted to play with was there, so she dragged them on stage for another encore. One of them was Shemika, and they sang a powerful tribute to the late Etta James (one of Christina Aguilera's favorite singers as well).
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite
Take a great blues folk artist (Ben Harper) and mix him with an old school harp player (Charlie Musselwhite) and you have the likes of something that just plain sounds down home and sweet. Women seem to really dig Ben. Women came in large droves with all of their girlfriends to the show I was at. That was pretty nice, but I felt kind of out of place as I was definitely in the minority. Here is nice trailer featuring Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=idpYuJeAi0U
It's really hard to find good Ben Harper youtube videos, because most are shot with a cell phone which doesn't record very well. Here's one of his entire concerts that has decent sound, but it's an outdoor concert so the acoustics are pretty crappy: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-NDw8CJy7wg If you start at about 30 minutes in and 34.5, you'll hear Ben Harper soloing and at his best.
Both of these guys sound a lot better in person then they do on any youtube recording.



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