Saturday, August 2, 1975
THE MICHIGAN DAILY
Montreux: Dizzy, Ella,
Maria and all that jazz
By JAMES FIEBIG
Special To The Daily
MONTREUX, Switzerland - Seventy
years ago, the few small dance bands
that featured a primitive form of the
distinctive, rhythmic music we now call
jazz were in the midst of a seemingly
hopeless battle for survival. Faced with
overwhelming competition from the com-
mercial clatter of Tin Pan Alley,- most
of these early jazz performers could
often only obtain work at extremely low
wages in dingy second-class nightclubs.
But today's enthusiastic international
acceptance of jazz as a unique branch of
popular music has changed all that.
When over 55 of the world's top jazz per-
formers arrived here late last month for
the annual Montreux Jazz Festival, gov-
ernment officials greeted them with a
full red carpet treatment-a move that
no doubt would have shocked ragtime
pianist Scott Joplin at the turn of the
Atthe city's luxurious Palace Hotel,
veteran trumpet ace Dizzy Gillespie took
to the tennis courts for a vigorous singles
match with producer Norman Grant.
Nearby, singer Ella Fitzgerald and band-
leader Count Basie chatted about the up-
coming program while munching sand-
wiches and sipping French champagne.
All this jet-set elegance and glamor
may seem quite out of place for a nor-
mally peaceful Swiss village. Yet Mon-
treux's gracious hospitality - its proud
reputation for making the international
performer feel right at home-may well
be the secret of its musical success.
Because performers view the Montreux
affair as a gala social occasion rather
than just another stop on a grueling
concert tour, the festival's management
experiences little difficulty in convincing
distinguished jazz artists to join the
"It's very hard to please everyone,"
admits Claude Nobbs, chief festival pro-
ducer. "But I try to do things with
enough feeling that the festival runs in
a smooth way. Then the musicians are
relaxed and can perform in the best
Almost all of the artists indeed seemed
delighted with the elaborate concert ar-
rangements carefully worked out by
Nobbs and his staff. A minor disagree-
ment between theater officials and pro-
ducer Grant over positioning of photog-
raphers during performances was quick-
In fact, about the only element which
stubbornly refused to cooperate during
festival week was the tempermental
But the musicians didn't appear to be
bothered by the unusual heat wave. If
anything, the jazz on stage seemed to
be cooking better than ever.
Vibaphone master Milt Jackson ap-
peared in several sets over the five
nights of the jazz series. Jackson, for-
merly a member of the now-disbanded
Modern Jazz Quartet, brought a unique
exuberance to the program with his soft
yet extremely lively solo passages.
Trumpeters Gillespie, Roy Eldridge
and Clark Terry added energetic sparkle
to each set they performed in. Gillespie,
with his famous bent horn and puffed,
chipmunk-like cheeks, demonstrated the
legendary technical agility that has
prompted some critics to name him as
successor to the late Louis Armstrong.
Eldridge and Terry also illustrated out-
standing technical virtuosity during ses-
sions with pianist Tommy Flanagan.
"Because performers view.
Montreux as a social event
rather than just another gig,
the festival management has
little trouble covincing t h e
best jazz artists to join the
Fitzgerald's thrilling set was domi-
nated by her remarkable ability to ex-
press vocally musical tonalities that
many excellent instrumental performers
could not begin to execute. Backed by a
fine trio under the direction of Flanagan,
Fitzgerald brought a wide collection of
jazz standards to life with a special
magic touch that is all her own.
On the other hand, contemporary sing-
er Maria Muldaur appeared to be a
victim of the more traditional jazz taste
that predominates in European audi-
ences. Muldaur's brief performance met
with loud whistles--one of the ultimate.
insults to a performer in Europe-and
more than a few boos.
- Nevertheless, Muldaur didn't seem at
all ruffled after finishing her short set,
"Listen, I think a good two-thirds of
them dug it," she said between sips of
wine in the casino lounge. "Man, this is
a little club as far as I'm concerned.
I've played for 30,000 people that all went
Many of the performers, like Muldaur,
seemed surprised at the unusually in-
timate setting of the Montreux festival.
(The casino auditorium only seats 2,000.)
So far, promoters have resisted the fi-
nancial temptation to greatly increase
ticket sales by moving to larger facilities
because of fears that bigger quarters
might disrupt delicate jazz acoustics.
"I've been to many of those gigantic
mass productions, and I can't stand it,"
Nobbs explains. "After the twentieth
row, you can't see or hear anything. The
feeling is totally lost."
Nobbs estimated that between 20 and
and 30 albums would be released by
distributors in Europe and the United
States over the next few months from
performances recorded at the festival.
Roland Kirk's energetic session on three
saxes, for example, will by itself easily
reduce to a powerful double album.
Some recordings cut during this year's
jazz week in Montreux may also reach
stores in a potentially huge market
where contemporary jazz has only re-
cently become quite popular-Japan and
the Far East.
To recognize the growing Oriental in-
terest in the jazz idiom, festival officials
programmed one entire concert featur-
ing new talent developed entirely in the
Far East. Most of these new players
lacked the skilled artistry of the Ameri-
can and European veterans, but demon-
strated an impressive ability to sustain
a high emotional level for an extended
period of time.
Other than that brief excursion into
eastern music, however, m o s t artists
featured last month in Montreux repre-
sented the classic school of jazz that
developed in America during the 1950s.
Nobbs explained that the emphasis on
more customary jazz resulted from the
unusual availability of a large block of
performers from the '50s and '60s
through producer Grant.
"We'd never been able to get them
before," explained Nobbs. "And I'm
trying to schedule through the years the
largest spectrum of jazz artists that I
The festival also featured a select
series exhibiting several y o u n g -jazz
groups based in Switzerland. The Wol-
verine Jazz Band, a six member Dixie-
land ensemble, received the most un-
usual billing-a spot on a "New Orleans"
jazz program that took place on a mod-
ern paddlewheeler steaming through the
waters of Lake-Geneva.
The strong dedication to artistic excel-
lence at the executive level is perhaps
the most unusual aspect of the festival.
Unlike so many other music promoters,
the Montreux group does not operate a
strictly commercial enterprise-a series
with the schedules dictated solely by
the cash register. At Montreux, the em-
phasis is more on providing a definitive
Maria Muldaur took her poor re-
ception at Montreux stoically: "Lis-
ten, I think a good two-thirds of
them dug it," she said after a set
marred by a chorus of whistles and
aural overview of the highly varied
styles of music we loosely describe as
It is this unique sense of purpose that
helps m a k e Montreux a tradition of
which all jazz musicians and audiences
can be most proud.
James Fiebig, who writes about
jazz for The Daily and occasionally
performs locally, has been touring
Europe for the past six weeks. This
article was compiled from his re-
ports by David Blomquist.