Montreux: Beyond the Blues

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In full song Virtuoso B.B. King letting loose at an earlier Montreux music fest

A world-famous brand can be a blessing and a curse. Ask Claude Nobs, founder and moving spirit behind the Montreux Jazz Festival,, which will run for its 43rd season July 3-18 on Switzerland's Lake Geneva. Nobs, an energetic 73-year-old, was recently in London to help celebrate the 50th anniversary of his friend Chris Blackwell's Island Records, which brought everyone from Bob Marley to U2 to world prominence. Passing out leaflets for Montreux at a commemorative concert in London, Nobs says more than one hipster handed them back with the words, "Jazz? No thanks."

They should have known better. "People should realize by now that at Montreux, the word jazz covers all kinds of other styles of music," says Nobs. He still programs plenty of the purest genre: this year's lineup includes pianists Monty Alexander and McCoy Tyner and guitarists John Scofield and Bill Frisell. And irrepressible blues miracle B.B. King will be around again, despite announcing that his last appearance, in 2006, was to have been his last.

But true to an eclectic outlook that has, since the late 1960s, featured everyone from Deep Purple (whose ubiquitous Smoke on the Water recounts the Montreux Casino catching fire during a Frank Zappa concert in December 1971) to Johnny Cash, this year's program once again ranges across all moods and styles. Jazz master Herbie Hancock will play with Chinese classical piano sensation Lang Lang; studio legends Steely Dan are on a double bill with a quintessential live act, the Dave Matthews Band; and New York City bassist Bill Laswell, purveyor of "collision music," is bringing along Japanese turntablist DJ Krush. "Who knows what will happen?" asks Nobs. "Everyone has total carte blanche."