Located at the foot of the Alps and on the banks of Lake Geneva, Montreux in Switzerland has one of the most idyllic locations. Each year, the town becomes ones of the centres of world music when they play host to the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Montreux lies on the eastern bank of Lake Geneva, this is important, as during Roman times it became a major trade centre sitting on a fork of the main trade route from Rome. For more than 300 years merchants stopped in the town before deciding whether to head further into Switzerland and Aventicum, modern day Avenches, or over into France and Besançon. Those same traders introduced grapes to the area and as a result, the town developed a wine industry which it still has today.
The religious wars of the 15thcentury saw many protestants, fleeing persecution in Italy, arrive in Montreux and the neighbouring town of Vevey. These immigrants, arrived with new trades and artisanal skills, setting up workshops and businesses thus increasing the towns prosperity. It was during this time that the Abbey of Les Echarpes was founded.
The arrival of the railways, combined with Montreux’s wonderful location saw tourism start to dominate. Many rich and cultured travellers from Europe and the Americas lead to the building of grand hotels, along with elegant cafes and restaurants. The town also become an artistic hub with Lord Byron, Mary Shelly (who wrote Frankenstien on the lake) as well as Jean Jacques Rousseau, all staying for a time in the town.
In the aftermath of WWII, and using its artistic background, the town became home of one of the most famous music festivals in the world, the Montreux Jazz Festival.
The Montreux Jazz Festival
The annual music festival is traditionally held in July as is the second largest jazz festival in the world after the Montreal International Jazz Festival in Montreal, Canada. The festival started in 1967, by Claude Nobs, Géo Voumard and René Langel with the help of Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegün from Atlantic Records. Originally held in the Montreux Casino, but was temporarily moved when the building burnt down in 1971 during a Frank Zappa concert. The event is now immortalised in the Deep Purple Song “Smoke on the Water”. The Casino was eventually rebuilt and hosted the festival until 1993 when it moved to the Montreux Convention Centre.
Originally the festival was purely jazz have seen Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Ella Fitzgerald and Keith Jarrett all perform there. In 1970, it was decided to broaden the scope of the festival by including, blues, soul and rock artists. From 1967 to today, more than 1300 artists have played Montreux including Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Garry Moore, Chuck Berry, Johnny Cash amongst others. The most prolific performers were Herbie Hancock (27 times) and B.B. King (21 times).
The success of the festival, and the wonderful location… along with Switzerland’s lenient tax rules… has seen many well know people make Montreux their home. These include, Freddie Mercury, David Bowie, Ian Anderson, Zelda Fitzgerald,Noel Coward, Tchaikovsky, Shania Twain and Empress Elizabeth of Austria, many of which are still remembered today with a series of statues decorating the town.