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50 Summers of Music: Montreux Jazz Festival

Ian Patterson By

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Many of the twenty or so photographers whose pictures feature have had long-standing relations with MJF, none more so than Georges Braunshweig -a regular at MJF since 1970. His 1975 picture of Norman Granz handing Oscar Peterson and Roy Eldridge their fees, in cash, in a large money-bag at a garden party, is a lovely illustration of bygone ways and bygone days. Equally evocative of yesteryear is Giuseppe Pino's photograph—also from 1975—of the festival team's logistical blackboard—a veritable museum piece from today's computerized vantage point.

Perhaps the book's greatest strength is the narrative of MJF's evolution that runs through photographs and texts alike. The changing musical fashions—from bebop to hip-hop and from blues to electronica and pop—are well documented. Also chronicled are the MJF's technological strides, which include being one of the very first festival's with an online-presence; in 1994 the MJF sold 150 tickets online. John and Helen Meyer, who have provided MJF's sound system for thirty years, describe sharing with Nobs ..."a sometimes irrational obsession with quality."

Colourfully anecdotal, the texts offer up numerous fascinating stories from MJF's fifty years, which are as revealing of the musician's sacrifices, doubts and inhibitions as they are of their ambitions, inspirations and passions.

Clearly, MJF means a lot to the musicians who have played there; above all, perhaps, MJF seems to have afforded musicians a sense of musical liberation. "If you want to understand my career," advices George Benson, "listen to my shows at Montreux." French journalist Yves Bigot remarks: "The festival made it feel like the music we lived for was really important."

The essays/interviews are not all by musicians, reflecting the numerous personalities that are part of the MJF tapestry: festival producer George Wein; long-standing Nobs collaborator Jaquelyne Ledent-Vilain; graphic designer Pierre Keller; journalist/producer Nancy Ypsilantis; world-renowned chef Fredy Girardet, and Thierry Amsallem -Nobs' life-partner and collaborator. Taken together, their testimonies throw light on the nuts and bolts of MJF, help paint a vibrant collage of Nobs—his personality and driving forces—and ultimately, shed light on the abiding spirit of MJF.

The final forty pages are a photo album of the eclectic ephemera collected by Nobs over close to five decades. From a toy train, a contract with Miles Davis and a harmonica, to posters, LPs, a recipe book and ceramics, the images offer the outsider an insight into Nob's personality and will no doubt stir a thousand and one memories for those who knew him well.

A beautifully designed and presented coffee-table book that draws you back again and again, 50 Summers of Music is a wonderful souvenir for any music fan who has ever experienced MJF—or who dreams of doing so—and an important historical document of a festival that celebrates music without borders.


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