12 Jan 2013

Jazz world mourns Montreux festival founder

1:47 pm on 12 January 2013

Claude Nobs, who founded the Montreux Jazz Festival nearly 50 years ago, has died after several weeks in a coma following a skiing accident.

The Swiss impresario immortalised by rock group Deep Purple as "Funky Claude" in the song Smoke on the Water and who lured the biggest stars of the music world to his festival on the shores of Lake Geneva died on Thursday at the age of 76.

Claude Nobs launched the summer festival in 1967 while working as an accountant at the Swiss resort's tourism office, Reuters reports.

Over the years, his blend of persistence, patience and charm managed to persuade leading lights such as Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Prince to take the stage at Montreux.

However he often had to meet their whims to coax them along. "I got Miles a Ferrari for him to drive along the lake, Nina Simone wanted a diamond watch and we found the mineral water that Prince likes in Geneva. We always find a way," he told Reuters last April during an interview at his beloved chalet.

A former festival employee said he was a shy man but still managed to negotiate.

The festival founder threw legendary parties at his chalet, full of vintage Wurlitzer jukeboxes, flat screen TVs and sophisticated sound equipment.

Despite heart surgery some six years ago, Claude Nobs had stayed on as festival director. He often joined musicians on stage, playing harmonica, sometimes accompanied by his St. Bernard dogs.

Mr Nobs fell while cross-country skiing on Christmas Eve near his chalet in Caux, overlooking Montreux, a property that he shared with longtime partner Thierry Amsallem, who is in charge of digitalising the festival's archives of 5,000 hours.

Last year's two-week festival, which attracted about 250,000 people, featured sold-out concerts by Bob Dylan, American chanteuse Lana Del Rey and British actor and musician Hugh Laurie.

A musical tribute to the people of Montreux is planned in February, in accordance with his wishes, to be followed by events in New York and London this spring, festival board president Francois Carrard told Reuters.