Hills of Montreux a-jive with the sound of music
CNN WorldBeat's Ulrika Nilsson reports from the Montreux Jazz Festival
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Friday, July 16, 1999 5:02:44 PM EST
From Ulrika Nilsson
CNN WorldBeat Correspondent
(CNN) -- The official poster of the 33rd annual Montreux Jazz Festival sums up the tone: colorful, diverse, optimistic. To some, Montreux is more than just a festival. It's an experience, a regular pilgrimage, a reunion -- and all in a beautiful setting in the Swiss Alps.
"It's almost a home-away-from-home for me now," says regular keyboardist, songwriter, singer and producer George Duke. He's performing this year with vocalist Rachelle Ferrell, who's got a dual-contract deal that lets her record R&B on the Capitol label and jazz for Blue Note.
"Every time I come here," Duke says, "I stay in the same room, or at least on the same floor, and it really kind of feels like my home on the water.
"And of course, all the musicians come here, so it's like a time when we can socialize and be together and you meet friends over the years. It's almost like family here."
That camaraderie and mingling of jazz greats is what's made Montreux so famous -- in few other places can you buy a ticket to hear legendary jazz figures jam with friends in a party atmosphere.
This year's festival, which wraps up July 17, boasts a program that reads like an encyclopedia of 20th-century jazz. Pat Metheny (his new CD with Jim Hall just came out in April) and Herbie Hancock are here. So are fusion pioneers master-bassist Stanley Clarke and Lenny White -- who, incidentally, have released an album together, "Vertu."
Yet, as with jazz itself, Montreux is not stagnating in one format. Jazz remains at its core, but all musical genres are welcome at the fest now -- from rock and world, to blues and soul. Alternative sounds are represented this year by artists and groups including R.E.M., Alanis Morissette and Elvis Costello.
So, why is it still called a jazz festival?
"Of course, people are saying, 'Why is it called 'jazz festival?'" says musician Claude Nobs.
"And my answer is very simple. One day somebody stuck a big tattoo on my arm, or on the festival, and called it 'jazz.' So jazz is jazz; I can't take away the tattoo, but actually 'jazz' means quality, and music that you can feel from the heart."