Montreux Jazz Festival still exudes a sense of coolness, even after more than 40 years of continual success and development. One of the most iconic festivals in Europe, Montreux now represents just about every type of modern music – attracting an array of artists from all over the world – and yet it has managed to maintain those unique ‘vibes’ which have always set it apart from the rest. The location, of course, has been a fundamental part of Montreux’s success, and the way in which it has managed to make the festival blend in with the landscape around it in a manner few other places have managed to achieve.
Set on the north eastern shore of Lake Geneva, with the fairy tale Chateau of Chillon perched on the water’s edge, Montreux is a breathtakingly beautiful town – with, perhaps surprisingly, fewer than 25,000 permanent inhabitants – a number that has risen, at modern festivals, to upwards of 200,000 people. The lakeside quays form an integral part of the festival, with even the waters themselves being utilised as themed shows are held on the boats that cruise around Lake Geneva.
Back in 1967, what began as a pure Jazz Festival was held primarily in the Montreux Casino – later to be immortalised in the Deep Purple Song ‘Smoke on the Water’ when it was destroyed during a Frank Zappa performance. In those early days, jazz greats such as Bill Evans and Ella Fitzgerald came over to perform. During the 1970s, the range of music increased and, although the jazz musicians kept coming – Stan Getz, Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, Charlie Mingus, etc – they were joined by the likes of Eric Clapton, Chuck Berry, Rory Gallagher, Ringo Starr and many, many more.
The expansion of the Montreux Jazz Festival continued, with some performers developing a special relationship with the city – Freddie Mercury, who has a striking statue facing the lake – had a home there, as does the singer/songwriter Shania Twain.
The main venue for the contemporary festival is the impressive Convention Centre, although there are still concerts at the now re-built Casino. The Convention Centre has two main concert halls – the Stravinsky Auditorium (he also lived here) and the Miles Davis Hall. There are also venues such as the Montreux Jazz Cafe, the Montreux Palais, Le Petit Palais and some other smaller stages – as well, of course, as the boats on the lake and even some ‘music trains’.
As well as concerts, many workshops take place at festival time and piano, guitar and singing competitions. There are archive projections, exhibitions and quite a few free outdoor concerts as well as the Montreux Jazz Young Planet, for 9 hours daily, offering free activities for the young. There is a free daycare kindergarden for children from 3 up to the age of 10, where they can be safely left for up to 4 hours at a time.
And all along the lakeside, visitors can find food stalls from around the world as well as the various cafes, terraces and cocktail gardens that are scattered around.
The Montreux Jazz Festival takes place over a two week period at the beginning of July each year. Full details of the programme and the ticket arrangements can be found on the official website. Please be aware that no children under the age of 6 are allowed in concerts and those under 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Certain venues also have restrictions on under 18s – either permanently or after certain times. Accessibility for people with disabilities is excellent and special prices for both them and their companions are available.
Accommodation can be difficult to find in the Montreux area at festival time and should be booked well in advance. There are, however, about 40 campsites around Lake Geneva and public transport into the city is excellent. For those travelling in by car, there is free parking outside the city and shuttle buses will ferry you regularly into the Festival.