Tributes flow for founder of Montreux jazzfest

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Malcolm Curtis - [email protected]
Tributes flow for founder of Montreux jazzfest
Claude Nobs died at the age of 76. Photo: Yvan Hausmann

Tributes flowed from across Switzerland and the international music world for Claude Nobs, the founding director of the Montreux Jazz Festival, who died on Thursday.


Nobs died peacefully at CHUV, the Lausanne university hospital, surrounded by family, according to the festival’s website, after falling into a coma following a cross-country skiing accident on Boxing Day.

He was skiing in Caux, a village on a mountainside above Montreux, where he had a home.

The exact circumstances of the accident have not been made public and his admittance to hospital in a coma was kept secret for two weeks.

Jazz festival officials announced on Monday that Nobs, who underwent heart surgery six years ago, had been hospitalized, where he was operated on again.

“Your audacity resonates in each one of us, a strong sense of generosity and sharing,” colleagues said in a joint statement issued by the festival website late Thursday night.

“Thank you for taking us where we never thought we could go,” the statement reads.

“And in your typical spirit, you left by surprise as if to remind us once more that in life, as in music, each great performance could be the last one even if the show must go on.”

 "There are no words to express the deep sorrow and hollowness in my heart that comes with news of Claude Nobs," American music producer Quincy Jones tweeted.
Swiss culture minister Alain Berset praised Nobs for "helping Switzerland and the world discover jazz." 

In an obituary for Le Temps journalist Arnaud Robert praised Nobs as a “cook from Territet who became one of the most celebrated masters of music in the world”.

The jazz festival founder indeed started his career as a cook before becoming director of the Montreux tourism office, where at the age of 31, he organized the first festival.

The music event quickly became a fixture for international jazz, rock and pop artists bringing global fame to the small town overlooking Lake Geneva against a backdrop of Alpine mountains.

In 1971, the festival gained notoriety when a fire broke out at the Montreux Casino, where Frank Zappa was performing.

The fire destroyed the casino.

The incident was memorialized by British group Deep Purple, who were also performing at the festival, with their song “Smoke on the Water”.

Nobs earned the nickname “funky Claude” in lyrics to the song for his role in saving several young people from the fire.

In addition to serving as festival general manager, Nobs became Swiss director of the Warner, Elektra and Atlantic recording companies in the early 1970s.

Jazz artists such as Quincy Jones, who served as co-director of the festival in the 1990s, and Miles Davis were regular performers at the festival.

But it diversified to include various musical genres.

Highlights of last year’s 46th festival included concerts by American songstress Lana Del Rey, Bob Dylan and Hugh Laurie, the British actor and musician.

Swiss newspapers on Friday lavished coverage of Nobs’ career on front pages and websites, with reminiscences, tributes and anecdotes.

In a statement, the municipality of Montreux invited people to contribute to a book of condolences made available at the town hall.

“He will remain attached to the memory of our municipality forever,” the statement said.

In accordance with Nobs’ wishes an event “entirely in music” will be organized as a memorial in the coming days.

Jazz festival staff have said that plans in the works for a long time have been made to ensure the continuity of the annual music event.

After Nobs entered the hospital, Mathieu Jaton, the festival’s secretary general, took over his reponsibilities, the festival announced earlier this week.

The 47th annual Montreux Jazz Festival is scheduled to run from July 5th to 20th.


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