It’s a mountain overhanging a big lake. A green, bucolic mountain. The kind of place where you expect to find the treasure at the end of the rainbow. This mountain’s real treasure however, is hidden in a vast chalet – a chalet which shelters over fifty years of popular music history.
The chalet can be found in the idyllic setting of Montreaux, a city where you could picture yourself aging gracefully, gazing at alpine pastures while reading Nabokov, drinking local white wine and breathing the Leman lake surroundings’ pure air. It’s the last place you would associate with the sweaty, druggy all-night jam sessions and creative explosions that have taken place here every year since Montreaux Jazz Festival started in 1967.
Looking at the festival’s history and how many legendary songs were recorded here will make your head spin – just like how our heads started spinning when the Montreux Jazz Festival team asked us to come and make a movie there. We discovered closets filled with thousands of live music film rolls, audio rolls and VHS – which were deemed so precious to the world’s music history that they were made part of the UNESCO world heritage collection in 2013. We saw big names everywhere – Gilberto Gil, New Order, Marvin Gaye, Leonard Cohen, Nina Simone – and made new discoveries too (Bessie Smith, Dorothy Donegan, Harlem’s Boys Choir to name a few). The music we found and stories we heard inspired us to share our fascination with the culture and the spirit of Montreux.
It’s the same fascination young musicians tend to have when they come to play Montreux Jazz for the first time. Benjamin Booker was speechless when he saw Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs’ chalet and how many legendary musicians had left their mark here.
He was the first artist we filmed for the movie we shot last summer. Booker turned Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind” into a resigned lament, his soft and rasping voice almost bringing us to tears. Songhoy Blues sang a translated version of “Smoke on the Water” exactly where smoke coming from the Casino’s fire started to invaded the Leman lake more than 40 years ago while Deep Purple was recording in Montreux. Sophie Hunger and Nick Mulvey met for the very first time and stripped down Prince’s “Purple Rain” together, dazzling the beautiful Montreux Palace with their immediate and overwhelming bond. And Aloe Blacc paid tribute in the most perfect way to Ella Fitzgerald’s “Sunshine of Your Love” in Claude Nobs’ chalet where everything started, and where music will keep being celebrated for ever.
Montreux Jazz Festival, 50th anniversary – 1st to 16th July 2016 in Montreux, Switzerland. All infos and line-up the festival’s website.
Very special thanks to Thomas for his precious proof-reading & corrections.