The Montreux Jazz Festival

The Montreux Jazz Festival is an annual music festival held in July on the shores of Lake Geneva.  This is the second largest Jazz festival in the world after Montreal.  Founded way back in 1967 by Claude Nobs, Geo Voumard and Rene Langel along with some help from Ahmed Ertegun one of the founders of Atlantic Records.  Initially a pure jazz festival the very first festival was held at the Montreux Casino and went on for three days.  This was the place to be, it featured famed jazz artists like Nine Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Miles Davis.

The Early Years

While it may have started out with strictly jazz act in the early 70’s other acts started playing the festival too.  Organizers also included soul, blues and rock artists of the day.  Frank Zappa, Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Marianne Faithful have all played there.  Originally the festival was held at the Montreux Casino and the venue caught on fire during a performance by Frank Zappa.  The whole event is immortalized in the song “Smoke on the Water” by Deep Purple.  By the end of the 70’s the festival was three weeks long and it included musical acts from virtually every continent.

The 80’s

In the 80’s the Montreux Jazz Festival really started to grow.  More and more styles of music were add although Jazz still remained central to the festival.  Throughout the 80’s jazz legend Miles Davis headlined several times.  With the addition of more rock bands, Status Quo and Deep Purple have both headlined the festival multiple times.  Other notable acts that have played Montreux in the 80’s were Marvin Gaye, Elvis Costello, Steve Ray Vaughn, George Clinton and a ton of other incredible acts.  Here is Eric Clapton playing in 1986.

While the expansion of the festival may have been started in the 80’s it still continues today, it has really transformed from a strictly Jazz festival to an international music festival.  From 91-93 Quincy Jones was one of the co-producers of the festival.  The number of attendees in the 80’s was roughly 75,000 people and today it tops out at more than 120,000 attendees.  It generates millions of dollars in revenue for the local community and it is one of the must-see international jazz festivals.  Next summer pack your bags and head over to Switzerland and get in on the fun, you will love the atmosphere and of course the music.

The Montreal Jazz Festival

La Festival International de Jazz de Montreal is the world’s largest jazz festival that is held in the city of Montreal each year in early summer.  There are more than 3,000 performers coming to Montreal from more than 30 countries here to play at more than 600 concerts across 20 different stages, with many free to the public.  This event brings in more than 2 million visitors every year to downtown Montreal.  The main events of the concert can draw up to 200,000 festival goers.

Downtown Events

A huge part of the downtown core in the city is blocked off to motor traffic for the ten day festival.  Ste Catherine Street in and around Place des Arts is completely blocked to traffic and there are people wandering in and around various venues checking out different artists and vendors along the route.  There are small outdoor shows, shows at the nearby jazz clubs up and down St Denis Street and some large concerts at Place des Arts.

The air is warm and humid, revelers are going up and down the streets listening to jazz, swing and rock music from all over the globe.  The shows start playing at 1:30 in the afternoon and you can spend the entire ten days drifting from one show to another.  Take some time and stop at a terrace and have a cold beer or a glass of French Wine.  Aside from the Jazz Festival, Montreal is also known for some spectacular eats so try out the local cuisine while you are here.

History of the Festival

The Festival was brought to life by Alain Simard in the mid 70’s and he worked with Productions Kosmos to bring blues and jazz legends to Montreal, some of these included Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker and Muddy waters.  Teaming up with Denys McCann and Andre Menard, they formed Spectra Scene and their goal was to bring high profile acts to perform in the city.  The group struggled to secure enough funding to put on the show they wanted.  Finally in 1980 they secured funding from CBC Stereo and Radio Quebec to put on the festival.  Attendance was roughly 12,000 people deeming the show a success.  It has done nothing but grow since then.

If you are a big fan of jazz or just live music in general then add the Montreal Jazz Festival to your bucket list, it truly stands out as one of the best music festivals in the world.  The city is incredible and the atmosphere is one of fun, music and dancing all over the downtown core.  Some of the biggest acts in the world, and not just in the Jazz arena have hit the stage in Montreal.  It really has to be seen to be appreciated.