Joy as jazz giants return to Swiss town of Montreux

As saxophone supremo Charles Lloyd pushes out a cascade of soaring notes, jazz aficionados in Montreux sway in rapture.

Joy as jazz giants return to Swiss town of Montreux
Charles Lloyd was back on stage at the opening of this year's Montreux Jazz Festival, half a century after he headlined the first festival in the idyllic Swiss town in 1967. Photo: AFP

The legendary American musician was back on stage at the opening of this year's Montreux Jazz Festival, half a century after he headlined the first festival in the idyllic Swiss town in 1967.

He was followed by fabled jazz pianist Monty Alexander, who first played Montreux in 1976, and who returned to revisit the celebrated recording he made on that occasion called “Montreux Alexander”.

Forty years on, his fingers fly over the keys, prompting some in the 300-seat venue to jump out of their seats and start dancing in the aisles.

“It was just a mythical concert,” enthused Jacques Emery, a 69-year-old pensioner.

“I was floating. I think actually I levitated in my seat.”

That was the kind of almost spiritual experience Lloyd, 78, was aiming for, he told AFP ahead of Thursday's concert, saying he himself receives the music from a higher authority and just allows it flow through him.

“I like to go as an empty vessel as possible and let the creator fill me up and fill all of us,” he said, smiling behind his dark glasses.

The septuagenarian sways and grooves on stage like a man half his age, arching his back and lifting his knee up to meet his saxophone.

“I'm drunk with the music and it informs me and it elevates me and puts me in the zone,” he said.

Lloyd, who was one of the first jazz artists to sell more than a million copies of a record, first began playing with stars as a boy growing up in Memphis.

“I've been blessed to play with some of the greatest musicians on the planet. I've been around when giants roamed the earth,” he said, listing blues legends like Howlin Wolf and BB King among those he has accompanied.

Jazz greats like Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges and Harry Carney, who used to stay at his childhood home when they came to town, also played a formative role in his musical education.

“They told my mother to have me be a doctor, lawyer or Indian chief, not this (jazz musician), because it's too hard,” he said, “But I was bit by the cobra, so it was too late.”

Jamaica-born Monty Alexander, 72, has also played with a number of luminaries over the course of his career.

“I recorded with Tony Bennett, (and) I knew Miles Davis very well,” he told AFP this week.

Like Lloyd, he also found a mentor in the Duke.

“Duke Ellington was one of the people that wrote a letter to the US immigration to allow me to stay in America,” he said. “The other one was Frank Sinatra.”

Alexander, who taught himself to play the piano as a boy but never learned to read music, says he considered himself “so fortunate to do something that didn't feel like I was working.”

“I still feel like it's a dream. How can you make music and get paid for it?” he said.


Nick Cave and Johnny Depp among headliners at 2018 Montreux Jazz Festival

Australian alternative rocker Nick Cave, Hollywood star Johnny Depp and punk legend Iggy Pop will be among the headliners at this year's Montreux Jazz Festival, organisers announced on Tuesday.

Nick Cave and Johnny Depp among headliners at 2018 Montreux Jazz Festival
Outsize personality, dark crooner, guru and poet: Australia's Nick Cave will be playing Montreux this eyar. Photo: AFP

The programme for the 52nd edition of the legendary festival, which kicks off on the evening of June 29th and run through to July 14th, offers “a particularly rich lineup”, organisers said in a statement.

Kicking off this year's festival in the idyllic Swiss town of Montreux, on the shores of Lake Geneva, they boasted “the kind of improbable pairing that we love”, featuring French singer Etienne Daho and Italian singer, pianist and composer Paolo Conte.

Montreux has for more than half a century been a magnet for big names of the music business and rising stars alike. Among the performers to grace its stages are jazz legend Miles Davis, folk singer turned crooner turned Nobel Laureate Bob Dylan and blues troubadour B.B. King.

It has retained its jazz label despite dramatically expanding its repertoire over the years, with big names in rock, punk, R&B and hip-hop also on the bill this year.

Australian composer and singer Nick Cave will be one of the top attractions at the festival, where he and his band will be performing for the first time this year, hitting the main stage on July 12th.

The gothic frontman of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds, who is known for the unsparing emotional intensity of his lyrics, is “an outsize personality, dark crooner, guru and poet,” the organisers said.

He is joined on the marquee by other music industry giants performing at Montreux for the first time, including US industrial band Nine Inch Nails and Jack White, of the White Stripes, who will be performing solo.

Billy Idol, Iggy Pop and Van Morrison also figure on this year's programme, as does Hollywood megastar Johnny Depp, who will be performing with his band Hollywood Vampires, which also counts Alice Cooper and Joe Perry as members.

“In addition to that colossal freeway of rock is a veritable streetscape of options,” organisers said, pointing to “the retro-funk of Jamiroquai, the nervy hip-hop of N.E.R.D., (and) the sunny pop-folk of Angus & Julia Stone,” among others.

Meantime, “at the crossroads of rock, electronic music and the avant-garde”, John Cale, a founding member of the mythical New York band Velvet Underground, will be at Montreux for the first time this year, accompanied by a string orchestra, organisers said.

Charlotte Gainsbourg, the daughter French legendary singer and songwriter Serge Gainsbourg and British actress Jane Birkine, who has just released her fifth album, will meanwhile return to Montreux this year, hitting the stage on July 2nd.

In a tribute to its jazz label, the festival this year will create a new space, The House of Jazz, dedicated exclusively to projects within the genre, including an event featuring Brazilian singer Seu Jorge singing David Bowie songs in Portuguese.The festival will also double the seating available at its Montreux Jazz Club stage to fit 600 people, organisers said.

Tickets go on general sale on Tuesday, with price for Nick Cave, for example ranging from 118 to 325 Swiss francs. For Iggy Pop, the cheapest tickets are 95 francs and most expensive 295. A ticket for Charlotte Gainsbourg will set you back 85 Swiss francs.