Claude Nobs (1936-2013)

ILMC is immensely sad to report the passing of Montreux Jazz Festival founder Claude Nobs, who died in hospital in Switzerland on 10 January, having sustained critical injuries in a skiing accident on 24 December. He was 76.
Born in Montreux, Claude initially trained as a chef before landing a job with his home town’s tourism office, where he became involved in organising charity concerts. A  friendship with Atlantic Records president Nesuhi Ertegun sparked the birth of the iconic Montreux Jazz Festival in 1967, with Charles Lloyd and Keith Jarrett the event’s first headliners.

The calibre of musicians that have performed at the festival in its 45-year history is second to none and much has been made of Claude’s heroics during a Frank Zappa concert in 1971 where he helped rescue audience members after fire engulfed the Montreux Casino. That feat led to his immortalisation as “funky Claude” in Deep Purple’s 1973 hit Smoke On The Water.

A statement paying tribute to Claude on the Montreux Jazz Festival website says, “In your typical spirit, you left us by surprise as if to remind us once more, that in life as in music, each great performance could be the last one, even if the show must go on. You hoped for an exit that reflected your life, you succeeded this as well. We carry, and will continue to carry on in your spirit, everything you taught us.”

A great friend of ILMC, Claude last attended the conference two years ago, and in 2009, when he was interviewed on stage by Ed Bicknell during The Breakfast Meeting, entering the room in typically flamboyant style and hurling chocolates into the crowd to illustrate how he enticed Aretha Franklin to play Montreux in the 1960s.

“I remember standing backstage with him ahead of that ILMC session and whereas victims of other breakfast meetings have been low key, he had come up with the idea of this grand entrance playing his harmonica – we only found out what he had planned when he started rehearsing a few minutes before he went on stage,” recalls ILMC’s head of marketing, Chris Prosser.

Prosser was also fortunate to be hosted by Claude during Montreux Jazz Festival in the Noughties. “I’m really proud to say he gave me a guided tour of his record collection – one of the largest in the world,” Prosser says. “I met his wonderful Bernese Mountain dogs at his house, Le Picotin, on a few occasions, where one of the most memorable things was the incredible musicians who stayed there. I met Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock on one trip and a number of wide-eyed rock bands that were in awe of all the music memorabilia Claude owned, as well as his amazing stories.

“He was a great cook and I was lucky enough to be at the house late one night when he decided to make what was the most incredible spaghetti Bolognese I’ve ever had. Above all, Claude was a fantastic host. He had a warm heart and gentle spirit and had the ability to inspire people on any number of levels. He clearly loved music and had many wonderful stories spanning the length of his illustrious career. The world is a poorer place without him.”