Montreux Jazz Festival 2019

Martin McFie By

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Montreux Jazz Festival
Montreux, Switzerland
June 28 to July 13, 2019

Montreux Jazz festival began in 1967, driven by the vision of Claude Nobs in collaboration with Geo Voumard, Rene Langel, and the Office of Tourism in their hometown Montreux, on Lake Geneva. This year 2019, was the 53rd edition. For two weeks in July, the small town expands to entertain a quarter of a million visitors. Montreux has managed to maintain the original ethos and character of what is a Music Festival more than a pure jazz festival. It was a product of its time. By 1967, the split between instrumental modern jazz and popular blues-derived music with lyrics and dance rhythms was final. At Montreux, it's all music. Miles Davis played here, so did the The Rolling Stones on their first tour. There was an enormous amount of music at Montreux, twelve live stages (half of which are free) stretch along the side of Lake Geneva with the magnificent Alpine mountain range as a backdrop. Music played in the afternoon, in the evening, and through the early morning.

Day 1

Sting, former frontman for the British rock band The Police, opened the festival showcasing his many musical incarnations, which have been decorated with 17 Grammy awards. His performance is part of his "Sting My Songs Tour." For the moment his work is centering on Reggae collaborations with Shaggy. However, he admitted there was still enough jazzman in him to improvise some sections.

All major performers with an established songbook play their biggest hits at festivals, whatever their current projects may be. Hearing a big hit live has a special magic that is impossible to reproduce in the studio environment.

Day 2

Sir Elton John CBE, celebrated a sparkling 50-year career by including Montreux in his "Farewell Yellow Brick Road Tour" after 300 million album sales. His adaptation of "Candle in the Wind" for Diana, Princess of Wales, was the highest selling single in history. Realizing that the 4,000 capacity Stravinski Auditorium would be insufficient for Sir Elton's audience, even with two performances, the decision was taken to transform the local stadium in Montreux into an outdoor venue for 15,000 people, in just three weeks.

Performances at the Montreux Jazz Club began with Seun Kuti& Egypt 80 building on the style of his father, Afrobeat pioneer Fela Kuti. The Montreux Jazz Club has theatre style seating for 600, at times configured with candlelit tables to seat a hundred people close to the stage, creating the club atmosphere.

Day 3

Montreux Jazz Festival supports High School and University jazz bands. Throughout the Festival there were orchestras from Utah State, Southampton University UK, Denver Jazz Club, Mountbatten Big Band UK, Groover Big Band, Holland, The Philadelphia Jazz Orchestra, Dixie Dominus Traditional jazz band USA, and the California Jazz Conservatory. in many cases the young musicians fund their travel, underlining the sad economic fact that big bands are a very tough commercial proposition.

In the evening, Janet Jackson, youngest of the famed Jackson family and a driving force in a 1990 revival of R&B popularity, performed in the Stravinsky Auditorium while at the Montreux Jazz Club, British singer Rahh presented her soul compositions. She included "I won't be a problem," which broke down into a section of rhythmic clapping in counterpoint. Her composition "For the Love of It" was dedicated to her father, who once briefly shared management with The Beatles. The name Rahh makes onomatopoeic reference to a tigress' roar, and in places, she displayed feline energy coupled with her powerful, wide-ranging voice.

Bobby McFerrin may be best remembered from among his ten Grammy awards for writing "Don't Worry, Be Happy" (1988). McFerrin took the stage with four acapella singers in his VOICorchEstra. As soon as they sat down in a semi-circle, McFerrin kicked off his shoes and began to sing his joyful sounds, slapping at his chest for emphasis, defining the rhythm, dipping through his vocal range from high to low in a beat. He called "You got it" to pass the sound and balance between them, conducting intuitively. The music became ethereal, mesmeric as it flowed. At times a flute could have been playing, at times a drum solo was discernible, but the magic was that there were only ever five singers on stage.

Day 4

Snarky Puppy gave a workshop to explain their band as a cooperative of around 15 musicians from which scheduling and availability indicate the members to play a tour or gig. Fresh musicians and ideas defeat complacency or as they admitted in reply to a question, encourage occasional confusion. In composition, they record the kernel of an idea and tempo. If they decide it has merit, the band defend that first inspiration, keeping it sacrosanct through the process, regardless of other musical or commercial pressures.

In the evening Chilly Gonzales took to the Montreux Jazz Club stage. The laconic humor of Gonzales the self-confessed showman, dressed in a belted bathrobe, brought a welcome lightness to the mood of the festival. Make no mistake; the man can play the piano. The first of his compositions was reminiscent of the measured calm of "Gymnopedies" (Erik Satie, 1880). Then the tight spotlight on Gonzales opened out, and another spot lit on Stella Lepage and her 'cello. They played his 2011 composition "Cello Gonzales." The extended mature depth of the 'cello notes in arco blended with the single strike notes and chords of the piano. Joe Flory on drums and flugelhorn joined in singing with the group as Gonzales continued his banter in three languages at the same time.

Day 5

While Chilly Gonzales repeated at the Montreux Jazz Club, Rock band ZZ Top performed their "50 years with ZZ Top" in the Stravinsky Auditorium. Outside the artist's entrance, fans wearing false beards dressed in chalk-striped suits and waited near the band's sleeper bus to welcome them.

A lecturer from nearby Lausanne Conservatoire gave a workshop on Techno-live systems. Later at the Talent Awards in La Coupole, Italo-Swiss singer Giulia Dabala sang "Why don't you like me?" Recording a track of her voice in techno-live, she then over sang the loop, creating a rhythmic groove on an electronic drum at the same time. Two friends joined her in close harmony, sharing the production process. They may have been alone among singers at the festival to use a tuning fork for precise vocal pitch. In spite of the demands of the technical process, this was a pleasingly melodic and polished performance, each song bespoke, performed live and recorded in the moment.
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