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Marcus Miller Workshop @ Fairmont Le Montreux Palace, Montreux Jazz Festival

Fairmont LeMontreux Palace - GORGEOUS!!!

Fairmont LeMontreux Palace - GORGEOUS!!!

Right this way... (c) Josh Raskin

Right this way... (c) Josh Raskin

Walking up to the GORGEOUS Fairmont Le Montreux Palace, I couldn’t help but smile. This was my favorite structure along the entire lake. The yellow awnings and its ornate classical design were simply stunning amongst the green background of The Alps. No matter where you walked along the water, the striking building made itself known amongst the grey and less-colorful buildings.

I arrived (with Josh) in time to walk right in with Marcus Miller on my left.  He was clicking beats with his tongue softly, wearing his signature hat and a vest.  I smiled and said “Hi.” He nodded and smiled with his eyes.  He was genuine, I could feel it immediately.

Up the stairs to the left we went.....

Up the stairs to the left we went.....

As we entered the Hotel, we were directed up a grand staircase into an elegant space with pink and peach toned walls.  Cherubs and damsels carrying vines of flowers were carved into the grand windows and arches.  There were about 200+ chairs set up in front of a tall stage but they were all full of fans.

I got a bit sad at the thought of having to stand in the back but within a second Josh had grabbed me by the hand and seated us on the floor directly in front of the people seated in their comfortable wooden chairs.  Within a few seconds there were two rows of fans that followed suit.  (Shout out to my Front Row Hoes Posse!)

Marcus Miller walked on stage after a few minutes.  His drummer, Sean Rickman of Garaj Mahal, immediately went into it with funk. I was immediately reminded of Victor Wooten and my mind drifted to the Stanley Clark, Victor Wooten, Marcus Miller project called S.M.V.  I had forced Josh to listen to their CD just weeks earlier and it was a project Marcus would touch on later in the workshop.

After the rhythm duo finished playing there was some banter. Miller joked about how “this wasn’t a workshop but by the looks of things, it appeared to be a concert.”  The space was bursting and the unlucky late arrivals were spilling into the hallways.

Miller explained how “these workshops are for you, the audience, and the hungry learner. I could stand up here the whole time and play licks or I can field questions,” which were welcomed at that time.

One of the greatest parts of the entire experience was hearing how each question was fielded by someone from Germany, Austria, France, America, Jordan or Spain. Each questions yielded a different accent and I just found that part totally intoxicating on its own merit.

And here we go... (c) Josh Raskin

And here we go... (c) Josh Raskin

Question #1: “How do you decide to use a fretted or non-fretted bass?

The Fret Neck

The Fret Neck

Here is a little background info on frets:

The metal strips running across a guitars neck are called frets. Now, here’s what might be confusing: the word has two different meanings when used by guitarists. It can be used to describe:

1. The actual piece of metal wire

2. The space between the metal strips

Both of these are referred to as frets by guitarists. The space between the frets or metal wires is the place where you should put your finger to make notes. You do not put your fingers directly on the metal strips. So, the area of the neck between the nut and the first strip of metal is referred to as the first fret. The area on the neck between the first and second strip of metal is referred to as the second fret, etc…

Miller explained about frets and how they help one stay in tune. “When you don’t use frets, it’s like you are playing a violin or cello.  Without the frets, you can use vibration to create a singing quality which I love because of the more natural sound that is made.”

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Question #2: “Are you doing a tour with this show?

“Yes, 9 shows.  Not a lot but it’s really very special to honor the 20 years since Miles Davis’s death.

Miller spoke of producing Miles’s album TuTu Revisited and how he really didn’t know if he wanted to jump right back into a Miles Davis session for another couple of years. However, the 20th anniversary of his death is so special and so Miller took his idea to Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter and vowed that if they wouldn’t be part of the project then it wasn’t meant to be.  The two jazz legends were immediately on board and so the project came to life.

[Some shouts out about “TUTU” being a choice on the set list]

As we were creating the show, we thought, let’s finish with something everybody knows and then we can go to the Blah, Blah, Blah part which allows for so much space within  the notes of the song.

Miller then went on to explain that on their set list for the show written below each song was “Blah, Blah, Blah.” He spoke about how they didn’t want to do the songs the same and it was when they began to have fun with the songs that the “Blah, Blah, Blah” would happen. It was the “Blah, Blah, Blah” that made this experience its own and where the beauty in the performance was meant to show itself.  So, during each song, the group would go off into “Blah, Blah, Blah” and that was when the magic happened.

Another song like that is Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” Breaks into “Footprints”

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Question #3: “Who were a few of your influences growing up?

This was Josh’s question and it provided for great content for this article!

I grew up in the 70s, the golden years of bass playing. I had musicians in my head like Larry Graham, who taught us the importance of the E-string.

With that, Miller broke into Sly and The Family Stone‘s “Thank You (Falettinme Be Mice Elf Again)”.

Before Larry Graham, there was James Jameson, a Mowtown session artist who played on so many tracks that you might recognize.

With that Miller broke into The Temptations‘s “My Girl” Here is Jameson’s bass line:

James Jameson was a very inventive man and yet he could keep it really simple and make a statement.

Then he broke into The Jackson 5’s “I’ll Want You Back.” Here is the bass line:

Then I got into Jazz with the acoustic bass players like Paul Chambers and Ron Carter.

With that, Miller broke into “So What” from Miles Davis’s Kind Of Blue CD. The intro for this song is something that Paul Chambers is extremely famous for! Listen to the intro here:

When Stanley Clark came on the scene, I was so excited.  He was the first one that made the bass an instrument that was allowed to be in the front of the stage.  As a bass player, to see that was liberating.  Jaco Pastorious was a continuation…

And then one day, I stopped listening to everything.  I was in high school and my roommate told me to stop listening because I had to find my own voice, my own style.  We needed to get rid of the negative of not having our own style.  I really respected this guy and so I stopped listening.

Now, it’s very difficult to stop listening to your heroes when you are a young person. After a few years, I felt I developed a personality.  Then Miles Davis called and said ‘Be at such-and-such studio in 1 hour,’ and he hung up.

So, I ran to the studio and during that session, I really tried to find my own voice.  I didn’t want to walk away without leaving my own signature.  I didn’t want people, years from now, looking back and saying, ‘Hey, you sounded like [insert name of famous bass player here] during this track.’  I wanted my OWN voice.  It was during that Miles session that I feel as though I found my own sound. I didn’t know if I liked it, but it was all mine.”

Miller breaks into “Power of Soul” by Jimmy Hendrix, the reflection of his bass was shining on the walls and off the faces of the multiples smiles in the room.

Question #4:  “I would like to know why you chose and how you developed ‘Time After Time’ for this tour.

“Miles was playing [Time After Time] towards the end of his life.  He was always seeing the beauty in songs that other artists were unable to see.  He would choose songs you never thought he’d play like the Broadway tune “If I Were a Bell.” He’d show you the beauty in the songs other thought were cheesy.”

Flowers at the Reception Desk... (c) Josh Raskin

Flowers at the Reception Desk... (c) Josh Raskin

Marcus produced the Miles Davis Tribute and how he thought by choosing Time After Time he could explain that concept of finding the “beauty in the cheese” musically.

We needed to expect the unexpected. During rehearsals, Wayne Shorter would suggest taking the song to a C-Sharp, something none of us would have ever thought of.  When they did it, it was like the sun came out.  It just evolved…

He then somehow got to speaking about his discovering Samba and how hard it is to discover new music these days.  He spoke about record stores and radio stations the beauty they used to entail.

“Remember old record stores?  The owners were true music lovers.  I used to frequent the type of stores where you would walk into the store and just ask, “what ‘cha got?” The owner would put on the latest find and many times we would walk out with as many as we could afford. It was the same with radio DJs. They used to play what they loved. They were the ones who were discovering music back then.  It’s very hard today.

People call musicians masters. When I think of masters I think of athletes. I do not believe that musicians can master music. That is not something that can be achieved as a musician. As a musician, you are constantly evolving, constantly learning, constantly absorbing. I like to refer to them as endless searchers.  Wayne Shorter is an endless searcher, always finding new things.

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Question #5:  “How do you find your personality? How much technique vs. feelings is needed?

Miller answered with the greatest answers ever delivered after this question.

You are not allowed to choose,” he said. “When you need it, you can reach for your technique and it’s great to have that.  However, you need your feeling all the time.  Best is when you have the head and the heart working together.

Miller then breaks into The Staple Singers‘s “I’ll Take You There.” Just listen to that bass line:

I come from an R&B background and it makes you have to stay doing the same thing over and over again in a song.  But I try to add something that makes it different.

He proceeded to play the bass line of “I’ll Take You There” in its simplest form.  And then as he continued to play the measures repeatedly, he would throw in a few extra notes and colored outside the lines of the measures.

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Question #6: “How did you choose the two Seans?

Just so you know both of their middle names are Christopher. These are things that happen when you have Wayne Shorter involved in a project. Sean Christopher Jones was on TuTu Revisited and Sean Christopher Rickman had a video on Youtube that I showed Herbie [Hancock] and Wayne [Shorter].

Here is the video that got Sean Rickman the job, his work with Dapp Theory at Montreux in 2003:

Question #7: “Over the past 20 years, I have heard Quincey Jones state that the electric bass changed live music. Please explain.

Before the electric bass, live performances didn’t have the low-end because you couldn’t mic an electric bass properly enough to fill the low end sound.  The electric bass allowed for Rock N Roll to develop and evolve and for the music to be FULL.  [Plugging in] changes the music and makes you play differently. Take it from me; I know how it feels to not be heard while playing vs. hitting one note and changing the entire landscape. The art of amplification is what truly changed live music.  Once the bass was properly amplified.

Question #8: “Will you be producing a CD from this tour?

Perhaps. We have had 9 shows and we have recorded all the shows with great outcome. Perhaps I can get everyone on board so we can pull together a DVD.

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Marcus Miller Workshop (c) Josh Raskin

Question #9: In a thick German accent: “Back in your youth, you were part of slapping competitions in school and it helped you with the ladies.  Can you please show us some good slapping to get girls?

Everyone broke into laughter, including Miller who then spoke of Thunder Claps and competitions and how “you only want to do competitions when you are young.

Miller ended the set playing Larry Graham‘s “The Jam”.  One of our FAVORITE songs. One of the greatest bass lines to open a song EVER!!! Here is Larry performing it:

And now with Marcus Miller:

“The Jam” a song that we would hear so many times over the next four days I would wager that “The Jam” was, by far, the most played song at the festival.

~~~

The workshop ended with Miller walking off the stage into a puddle of fans wanting to just pass him a smile, shake his hand or just be in his presence! I had enjoyed my tiny moment with him walking in and so I went to find Josh who had skirted around the venue trying to take pictures with his fancy camera.  The staff was constantly asking others to shut off their cameras.  Thank God Josh is sneaky because we wouldn’t have had much visual content for this article!  🙂

Turns out, Josh had found himself just on the other side of the wall in the room where they would eventually bring Miller seconds after he got off stage. When Josh saw him, he said: “Marcus, when you spoke of attending a performing arts school in NYC did you mean La Guardia High School?”

Miller: “Yes, you live there?

Josh:  “Yes, I teach in a middle school that tests the most students into La Guardia.

Miller: “Where do you teach?

Josh: “Booker T. Washington Middle School.

Miller:  “NO WAY! I know that school…

And so it continued for a few more minutes of talking school, music and Manhattan.  My lucky Josh had gotten the final interview of the session even though Marcus Miller had ended up getting in the last question!  🙂

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Note from the Editor: You are encouraged to read The Montreux Jazz Festival posts in order as they all contain information that pours meaning into the following posts:  Click here for  My Behind The Scene Tour and Overview of The Montreux Jazz Festival **

Miles Davis Tribute @ Montreux Jazz Festival

Even though the Montreux Jazz Festival had been raging for over two weeks, The Miles Davis Tribute was the first show of the festival for Josh and I, having just arrived in Montreux, Switzerland by way of Paris, France earlier that morning.

View from looking left out to lake Geneva or Lake LeMan

View from walk to Auditorium, while walking and looking left out to Lake Geneva aka Lake LeMan

This would be a very special performance for us and other Americans who were attending because this show was not making its way to the United States.   Sad but true, which made this a very special performance for jazz heads like Josh and I.

We walked from our hotel to the gorgeous Auditorium Stravinsky, about a 15 minute walk along the gorgeous Lake Geneva, or Lake Léman as the Swiss prefer to call it. You can read more about this gorgeous auditorium and its amazing acoustical design in my previous post titled My Behind The Scene Tour and Overview of The Montreux Jazz Festival!

Having been blessed with a amazing VIP package from the wonderful Sloane Family earlier in the year, we were so excited and didn’t know what to expect! We had already been greeted upon arrival to our hotel by a Festival representative and been given a goodie bag full of Mac Cosmetics, two festival tee-shirts, a dual-disc sampler CD, Missoni pamphlets and more.

View of festival sidewalk heading up to Auditorium Stravinsky at night!

Night view of festival sidewalk heading up to Auditorium Stravinsky, which is to the left of the white tent! The Lake is located behind me at this view.

We found our way to the Protocole’ Office where a most gracious staff took care of us.  Vivian, Josephine and Helena were beyond wonderful!!  Thank you ladies for your patience, giving us the best of care, making sure we weren’t kicked out of our booth by the stars and reminding us how hospitality should be handled.  New Yorkers need to recognize!  The hospitality in Switzerland is absolutely unmatchable.

We were given two slips of thick paper and orange wrist bands that served as entry to the box seats. We were shown the way to the top of the venue, led down a little hallway and placed into Box #4.  My magic number 🙂  There were only six boxes total as far as our floor was concerned. If they had more, I never knew about them or saw them.

Raging the Box Seat Shot!

Happy Box Seat Ragers!!

The below picture shows the stage from the left side box view.  We were just the mirror image, same spot but our box was situated to the right of the stage. It was a phenomenal view of the show, albeit far away.  There would be no front row raging during these performances.

Auditorium Stravinski

Auditorium Stravinski

The show was slated to begin at 8pm but we all know what that means.  Finally around 8:45pm, beginning fashionably late (pun intended and you’ll see why later), Claude “Funky Claude” Nobs, the fonder and general manager of The Festival, and a few staff members came out on stage to press festival merchandise. Claude led the pack, wearing multiple shirts, stripping away a layer at a time then throwing the shirts into the audience. Then came the introductions via Funky Claude.

The Miles Davis Tribute @ The Montreux Jazz Festival

The Miles Davis Tribute @ The Montreux Jazz Festival (C) Lionel Flusin

Miles Davis Tribute produced by Marcus Miller

Herbie Hancock – Keys
Wayne Shorter – Saxophone
Marcus Miller – Bass
Sean Christopher Rickman – Drums
Sean Christopher Jones – Trumpet

Pianist and composer Herbie Hancock, saxophonist Wayne Shorter and bassist Marcus Miller are all alums of the school of Miles Davis, having all had the pleasure of playing with Davis before he passed.  The jazz great, whose statue stands proudly in a park next to Miles Davis Hall, performed 10 times at Montreux, the last time just two months before his death at age 65 in 1991.

Claude welcomes Marcus Miller (C) Lionel Flusin 2

Claude welcomes Marcus Miller (C) Lionel Flusin

Marcus Miller was introduced and came out in an all white suit and his signature black hat.  Herbie Hancock was introduced and came out rocking a MEGA Cosby Sweater to which Claude commented on how he liked it. Well, of course he did.  Claude Nobs only wears Missioni!  Yall know the “interesting” $1,000+ designs that looks like ugly sweater patterns? It’s my least favorite store on Madison Avenue and here is this dude who only wears that brand. He rocked every piece 🙂  It was made for Claude and all his fabulousness and, to be honest, I grew to like a few items during my trip.  Wayne Shorter was next and in the tradition of Davis, the trio has brought in two young musicians to work with them, trumpeter Sean Jones and the drummer Sean Rickman.

Sean Jones during The Miles Davis Tribute @ The Montreux Jazz Festival

Sean Jones during The Miles Davis Tribute @ The Montreux Jazz Festival

The two-hour concert, which stretched into the early hours of Thursday, was a highlight of the 45th annual Montreux Jazz Festival, “where Davis is still remembered for driving along Lake Geneva in a red Ferrari.”

Set List

Walkin’
Little One
Milestones
All Blues
Directions
It’s About That Time
Water Babies
Someday My Prince Will Come
Footprints
Put Your Little Foot Forward
Jean Pierre
Orbits
Dr Jeckyll

(encore)

Tutu
Time After Time

Marcus Miller (C) Lionel Flusin

Marcus Miller (C) Lionel Flusin

The five piece ensemble opened with “Walkin,” the title track of Miles Davis‘s 1954 album.  Herbie Hancock started the song out slowly, following through alternating from his piano and keyboards.  During his solo, his face made the deepest of connections with the notes and you could see it in the way he contorted his mouth and eyes with feeling.  There was gorgeous mournful trumpet and saxophone exchange between Sean Jones and Wayne Shorter respectively and then the “Blah, Blah, Blah” happened through “Little Ones” and “Milestones.”

During the Marcus Miller workshop the following day, a question was asked about the set list and how it was formed.  Miller spoke about how they picked the song, (which I will speak of fully in the Marcus Miller Workshop Post to follow this one next week).

He spoke about how they didn’t want to do the songs the same and it was when they began to have fun with the songs that the “Blah, Blah, Blah” would happen. It was the “Blah, Blah, Blah” that made this experience its own and where the beauty in the performance was meant to show itself.  So, during each song, the group would go off into “Blah, Blah, Blah” and that was when the magic happened.

Marcus Miller raged an amazing electric bass solo during “All Blues” as he curled his fingers into the strings, creating a gorgeous texture of sound. There was no guitar on stage, yet it was so tight, so jazzy and so full of notes and excitement that it filled the auditorium fully. During the “Blah,Blah, Blah” towards the end, Miller changed to a saxophone-looking instrument that layered a deep tone under the rest of the group.

Sean Jones and Wayne Shorter (C) Lionel Flusin

Sean Jones and Wayne Shorter (C) Lionel Flusin

During a swanky “Directions,” I notice movement in the box to my left.  I see Esperanza Spalding being sat down on the second row with a few of her people. At first, I didn’t think it was her but then who else rocks hair like that?  It took all my power not to geek out.  She is a musical goddess and we would be enjoying her performance only a few hours later for the Quincy Jones’s Global Gumbo, (another post that will be following this one shortly).

“Someday My Prince Will Come,” from the 1961 album recorded with John Coltrane, was beautiful.  This is one of my all time favorite songs.  A gorgeous song from Disney’s 1937’s Classic Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs, it’s impossible not to feel something as a female while listening to this song.  My eyes immediately welled up and I know I was not alone in this emotional stirring of the soul.

Sean Rickman (C) Lionel Flusin

Sean Rickman (C) Lionel Flusin

Marcus Miller started off with a slow bass solo then Sean Rickman and Herbie Hancock took over the stage. I had never seen Rickman or so I thought.  He is actually the drummer from Garaj Mahal, a group I have not been able to see in a long time.  He caught my ear. Most of the time drummers are not the artists who catch my ears in a project like this.  He was superb and he looked to be having so much fun up there as his smile never once dropped, nor did his beat.

Then, a nice informative break in the show as Wayne Shorter engaged the audience with how the super group decided to approach this tribute.

Wayne Shorter during The Miles Davis Tribute @ The Montreux Jazz Festival

Wayne Shorter during The Miles Davis Tribute @ The Montreux Jazz Festival

During their first rehearsal, the five men did nothing but talk about how best to honor Miles’s spirit. They didn’t play a single note during the entire first rehearsal.  Miller would later say in his Workshop that during that time of revelation, they would try to outdo each other by seeing who could come up with the most obscure Miles tunes.  It was during this time, during this first rehearsal, that Miller said they became a band, before a single note was ever played between them.

“In preparing for these concerts,” Mr. Hancock said, “we had many conversations about the interests of Miles outside of music like boxing and cooking. He was arguably a master chef. It adds more dimensions to him. We’ll embrace his spirit by being in the moment and creating a new perspective, sometimes on known themes.”


While putting together their set list, the one thing the group didn’t want to do was “play in the style in which it was originally done because we figured Miles would hate that.” Miles was a man who always looks forward and so as they looked back at his music to play they knew that Miles would have wanted them to look forward, taking his music to new levels.

Let’s make it like a soundtrack to Miles’s life’!” “It doesn’t feel like 20 years, it feels like 4 or 5. Miles’s music is everywhere. This is dedicated to the spirit of Miles Davis, the most beautiful thing he gave us.” ~ Marcus Miller

They spoke on how they felt Miles had only been dead 4 or 5 years, not the 20 years  that we were celebrating tonight.  They felt, and I agree, that this was because of the fact that Miles’s music is still so very relevant today and the lingering spirit that resides in all the artists who played with him keep his spirit flowing through the scene and through the music.

Sean Jones (C) Lionel Flusin

Sean Jones (C) Lionel Flusin

Breaking into “Footprints,” Wayne Shorter related to the audience that this portion of the show would represent Miles’s childhood.   The songs were playful which made sense and the “Blah, Blah, Blah of this song became funky as the bass and horns led the pack.  During the song, Hancock transformed his keyboards into human noises, each key making a different sound consisting of hoots and hollers sound bites from James Brown that said “Come on,” “Groove,” “Yeah,” and cat calls and yelps. The “Blah, Blah, Blah” had taken over.

There was another song thrown in to the mix here that I just couldn’t get the name of.  Sean Rickman would later tell me:

“After ‘Footprints’ we play[ed] a swing tune that represented Miles’ “childhood”. I forgot the name of that tune. Then we did Jean Pierre.”

Marcus put down the electric bass and moved to the standup for “Jean Pierre” which changed the entire scenery of the sound in the room, almost big band-y.  I knew it was a song from later in Miles’s day.  If I could only remember the name.  The trumpets led the band during and the “Blah, Blah, Blah” of this song went on for minutes and ended in a standing ovation of the crowd.

Herbie Hancock (C) Lionel Flusin

Herbie Hancock (C) Lionel Flusin

Being on the big stage for this 5 piece band was perfect. The artists on stage lined up for a bow and it was tearful moment for me.  The music had been overwhelmingly different from anything I had expected to hear that night. I don’t think I have experienced such a tight and wonderful jazz performance.  The legends on that stage, the fact that it wasn’t being played in America, my appreciation for the moment, my appreciation for Miles; it brought tears to my eyes.

I wasn’t the only one who felt this way. The entire crowd was standing in ovation with respect for the super group who had just played the “Blah, Blah, Blah” out of the music! Taking the music to an entirely new level and doing EXACTLY what they had planned.  After the ovation, Hancock strapped on a synthesizer keyboard for the first encore: “TuTu.”

Marcus Miller @ Montreux Jazz Festival

Marcus Miller @ Montreux Jazz Festival

Hancock and Miller had fun during this tune, walking towards each other in the middle of the stage and Hancock bantered musically with each musician.  Each one playing a rip and Hancock coming back with his handheld. When it was Shorter’s turn, he blasted out a single note, laughter again erupted into the audience. All Wayne Shorter needs to play is a single note.  So amazing.

Once again, they maneuvered to getting off the stage but this time they were stopped by Claude Nops, who requested another song.  This time, the song that took us all by surprise, “Time After Time,” a song made famous by Cyndi Lauper in the 80’s, was played.

Marcus Miller was back on his deep saxophone and created a totally wormy sound from the instrument to take “Time after Time” to a different place.  Without Hancock playing the melody shortly after, one might not have recognized the song. I recognized it immediately. There was even a Star Wars tease from Shorter on his saxophone in there if you caught it.  Completely playful and unique.

Later, during his workshop, Marcus Miller would speak about how Miles Davis could take a super cheesy song or a song that most musicians might view as cheesy and find the beauty in it.  This was one of those songs.  Miller felt that ending with a song that Miles Davis revamped was a perfect ending to this tribute, showing us how he could be the master of anything.

“Marcus produced a great concert,” said Claude Nobs, founder of the Swiss festival now in its 45th year.

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My Behind The Scenes Tour and Overview of The Montreux Jazz Festival (Switzerland)

Loving Life!

Loving Life!

Gorgeous art on canvas. Quality!

Gorgeous art on canvas. Quality!

I just got back from the 45th year the Montreux Jazz Festival, which took place on the gorgeous Lake Geneva, or Lake Léman as the Swiss like to call it. This amazing musical festival ran from July 1 through the 17th.

Nestled amongst the French populated section of the Swiss Alps in Montreux, Switzerland, this town has one of the most majestic views one will ever have as backdrop for a music festival.

Fun Fact: Lake Geneva was the site for the first measurement of the speed of sound in (fresh) water.

Take all your preconceptions, like comparing it to any festival you have ever attended, and throw them away.  For those thinking it might mirror New Orleans Jazz Festival in the sense of night and day jumps all over New Orleans catching shows, it’s nothing like that.  Try thinking more along the lines of a dignified, classy smallish in scale but giant in reputation, amazing, worldly festival thrown into the middle of The Sound of Music.

A Little Background

The Montreux Jazz Festival is certainly the most well known music festival in the world, at least to musicians.  I would wager that the average musical lover even has a few Live in Montreux cds from an artist or two without even realizing it.

Live at Montreux - I hope you have a few of these albums!

Live at Montreux - I hope you have a few of these albums!

Funky Claude Nobs!

Funky Claude Nobs!

It is all began with Claude “Funky Claude” Nobs, a passionate jazz fan and visionary who founded the festival back in 1967.

This guy was cool, rocking Missoni gear every time I saw him. Come to find out he rocks it almost exclusively. When I lived on Park Avenue, Missoni was the only store on Madison Avenue I cringed by when I took my daily walks home from work.  However, I took the time to take a look at the Missoni catalog that came in our gift bag (more about that later). I have to be honest with you, I dug some of the $1,000 and up items.

A group of youth tossing three teens in the air. Not photoshoped.

A group of youth tossing three teens in the air and they rotated! Not Photoshopped!

Our tour rep told us that Claude started as a cook and networked his way up to somehow create this festival.  That wasn’t a through enough description for me.  How about these facts:

  1. After apprenticing as a cook, Nobs worked in the Tourism Office of Montreux.
  2. He later went to New York, where he met Nesuhi Ertegün, the president of Atlantic Records.
  3. There he met Roberta Flack and invited her to the Rose d’Or de Montreux, one of the most important international festivals in entertainment television
  4. Aretha Franklin made her first visit to Europe thanks to him.
  5. At the age of 31, while he was director of the Tourism Office of Montreux, he organized the first jazz festival

~ Thank you Wikipedia

One of my favorite booths on the walk...

One of my favorite booths on the walk...

Gorgeous flowers were the only thing that stood between you and the water's edge!

Gorgeous flowers were the only thing that stood between me and the water's edge!

Montreux’s inaugural fest was only three days compared to the current three week run and listed almost exclusively jazz musicians.  In the 1970s, the festival began broadening its scope including blues, soul, and rock artists.  Over the years, the festival has grown to include all styles of music from around the world.  This year, I noticed that there was a large Hip-Hop focus at this “Jazz” festival, especially late night.  I would love to speak more with the team who creates the line-up.

It’s fair to say that The Montreux Jazz Festival might be one of the world’s most diverse musical gatherings. Over the four days I was in Montreux, on the streets alone I saw:

  1. Indian group chanting with flute and drum accompaniment
  2. Individual John Mayer types with guitars
  3. Japanese dancing and singing
  4. African Tribal dancing and singing
  5. A Didgeridoo group called DidgEra. (They changed spots all week, I loved them but they need to be nicer to their fans if they want us to give a crap. I got brushed off when asking about the instruments they were playing.)
  6. A solo Kora player
  7. Many versions of American songs remixed with electronic beats coming from the food booths. (Celine Dion even got some love!!)
  8. Hip-Hop dance rage on one of the park stages
  9. Four dudes strapped a barely floating raft to a paddle boat and set up their band on the raft with an electric amp playing garage band music. THAT was amazing. As seen below 🙂
Ballzy and awesome! Note the pirate flag...

Ballzy and awesome! Note the pirate flag...

Try to take into perspective that the festival is very small in ground size even though 220,000+ people are said to have attended.  It’s basically laid out along the edge of Lake Le’man on a straight sidewalk lane pretty much ending at our hotel, Eden Palace Au Lac.  Literally a 15-20 minute walk from end to end.

The Overview

Surf Board Paddlers had the best view from the middle of the Lake

Surf Board Paddlers had the best view from the middle of the Lake

I arrived in Montreux, Switzerland on the 14th of July and was there for four days. Even though it was raining, the place shined through with its gorgeousness. Spotless lawns and sidewalks, clean air, a large gorgeous blue lake in the middle of the most scenic of mountain views one could ever encounter. To have a music festival set in this type of landscape was phenomenal.  As I grow and experience these musical adventures, my definition of phenomenal has changed.  This…was…PHENOMENAL!

The town itself was rather small and you didn’t have to gaze far to see that the town took this festival seriously.  Every window display had a music theme.  There were guitars with pearls draped across them and drumsticks scattered around cupcakes.  Over our time there I would see flower vases lined with sheet music or in the shape of piano keys, cloth stores hung musically inspired cloth and restaurants serving Orchestral Salads and Musical Cheeseburgers.  It was no joke.

Lobby shot of our hotel!

Lobby shot of our hotel!

Loved these guys!

Loved these guys!

While checking in to the Eden Palace Au Lac, to our pleasure we were immediately told we had a room upgrade with a better view!   Then we were told that a representative from The Montreux Jazz Festival had contacted them and asked to be alerted upon our arrival.  We were then told that in ten minutes a representative of the festival would becoming to our hotel to greet us.  Alright, this was pretty dope…

Seriously...this was our view.

Seriously...this was our view.

Our Room with VIew

Our Room with View

Josh and I went to our rooms and melted into our view. It was the most delicious view I had ever experienced.  The grandeur of the mountains were just breathtaking.  The Blue Ridge Mountains where I spent my college years were put into perspective.

The water was so clear and clean.  Very much like a tropical island.  At any point on your walk along the lake, if you felt like swimming, you could jump in from one of the many quaint docks and ladders.  While you swam you were  floating amongst ducks, swans, pigeons, and sea gulls.  Scattered around were sail boats, paddles boats, para-gliders, surf-board paddlers and more.  Every single moment and spot was picture perfect.

View from sidewalk walk around Lake!

View from sidewalk walk around Lake! See the docks to jump in from? Too cute!

Gift Bag Welcome!

Gift Bag Welcome!

I began to unpack before the  phone call came.  Josh went down to meet the representative and came back with a huge bag of goodies. The gift bag contained two Montreux shirts, MAC cosmetics, A Montreux Jazz Festival dual-disc sampler cd, Missioni clothing magazine, and a Switzerland tourist type booklet with fun things to do around the area.

Hip-Hop Dancing on The Park Stage

Hip-Hop Dancing on The Park Stage

Over the next four days, I would experience a world I had never known as this amazing festival opened itself up to me at the same time. I was walking amongst covered Muslims and Native American Indians.  I heard people speaking French, Spanish, German, Dutch, Israeli and more.  This is something I never see/hear at American Festivals.

Fest goers lounging outside the Park stage.

Fest goers lounging outside the Park stage.

During the three week festival you could enjoy piano, voice and air guitar competitions with contestants from Great Britain, Australian, France and more.  There were paying concerts with Carlos Santana (Rock), John Mclaughlin (Fusion), Jimmy Cliff (Reggae), Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi (Southern Rock), B.B. King (Blues), and any other style of music you can imagine. There were also free shows held in various locations along the water each day.

Notice the water on the right as you walk along the side walk of vendor tents.

Notice the water and mountains on the right as you walk along the side walk of vendor tents.

The Music in the Park Stage, located right outside the Auditorium Stravinsky!

The Music in the Park Stage, located right outside the Auditorium Stravinsky!

There were Salsa and Brazilian show boats and a New Orleans Jazz train which all housed performances on board.  There were workshops in Funk, Soul, Bossa Nova, Rock ‘n’ Roll, Electronic and Classical music.  There were teachings about the rise of Hip-Hop, music in film, Slam Poetry performances, and numerous individual artists workshops.  I attended the Larry Graham Workshop and the Marcus Miller Workshop, both of which will be posted in full later next week.

The food booths were unique, diverse and fresh!

The food booths were unique, diverse and fresh!

My first meal at Fest was Paella. So Good!

My first meal at Fest was Paella. So Good!

Some 22 food stalls can be found along the lakeside.  The food was on par with the quality you might find at the New Orleans Jazz Festival, the only other festival I’ve attended whose food was on the same level as the music. My first meal was Jambalaya, followed by fondue, crepes, orange and apple portable waffles that tasted like fruit loops, baguettes with amazing cheese and oil toppings, German style potato salads, cheesy scalloped potatoes with ham.  There was Sushi, Thai, Mexican, Indian, Chinese, and German and there was even a salad/pasta bar in one of the booths.  The food was never ending and I didn’t get to eat enough of it while I was there.

Tons of exciting activities were around for kids of all ages!

Tons of exciting activities were around for kids of all ages!

The Behind-the-Scene Tour

To be honest, I had forgotten about the Behind the Scenes Tour until two days into the trip and we were on our last night of box seats.  All we had to do was come in between 2pm and 11pm and they would give us a Behind the Scenes Tour.  The tour ended up taking place on our last day of the festival right around sound check. Coincidence? I think not 😉

I was described the difference between Backline (everything behind the artist on stage) and Front Line (the lights and video equipment). With that info under my belt, I was taken into the Instrument Storage Room.

Hanging out with all the instruments - felt good!

Hanging out with all the instruments - felt good!

Due to the small size of Montreux, the frequency of the shows during the festival and the lack of time for each artist to set up, most artist attending the Montreux Jazz Festival use instruments from the stock pile that is housed in the Auditorium Stravinsky.  Of course, people such as Larry Graham and Paul Simon would use their own instrument but their back up bands were asked to use what was already on site.

Instrument galore...

Instrument galore...

Every day the staff prepares the instruments.  The last performer of the night sound checks first.  The selection of instruments was grand.  I was told that the staff who maintain and organize this portion of the festival were the hardest working people on site.  It was their job to make sure that every artist had the instrument they needed.  It was their job to be there multiple hours a day.  First to organize what is needed for the day, then to organize sound check, see the show through to the end of the performance, and then make sure the instruments are put back accordingly.

I immediately recognized the pressure that was on this portion of the staff and at that moment, a grumpy male snapped at Nathan to move out of his way.  Clearly, there was pressure.

Instruments everywhere, of all kinds.

Instruments everywhere, of all kinds.

Because so many artists performed in such a small amount of time on one stage, the last artist performing on a given night has sound check first and their equipment is set up.  Each following artist’s equipment is set up in front of the last.  Then, during performance time, the first act goes on, their items are removed from the line and by the time the last act is performing, only one line of instruments, that last artists instruments, are left on stage.

I was told of a story involving Keith Jarret.  There are only two pianos in the collection: a Steinway and a Yamaha.  Jarret struck one key on the piano provided by the festival and said “NO!” He refused to use the equipment.  The Montreux staff went looking all over Switzerland for the type of piano that Jarret wanted. There was only one located in Switzerland and it was flown in.  The artist struck one key on this new piano and said “NO!”  He ended up using the original piano provided by the festival.

The crates that brought supplies on the train to the Festival

The crates that brought supplies on the train to the Festival

I was escorted to the inner belly of the building.  Here was housed the recycling center.

Fun Fact about the alcohol:  The festival has 20,000 liters of beer imported from Belgium because the tiny Swiss kegs don’t serve the purpose of the large festival.

Kegs ready for the Festival.

Kegs ready for the Festival.

Montreux’s Greening efforts are intense. Their mission is to limit waste creation while at the same time maximizing sorting and recycling. This mission manifests itself through:

  • Returning the site to its original state on a daily basis
  • A team that works 24 hours a day, sorting trash and ensuring the cleanliness of the festival areas
  • An on-site eco-compatible waste plant
  • Eco Points spread across the site, both indoors and outdoors, allowing the public to recycle items including plastic cups, PET, glass, aluminum, paper/cardboard, and items to be incinerated
  • Prevention and information for the public, in partnership with the Summit Foundation, to promote eco-friendly measures

For it’s second year, in addition to financial support, Alpiq is providing practical energy efficiency solutions for the Hospitality Garden, the festival’s VIP area.  With the installation of a photovoltaic system and energy-saving LED lighting, this technology is to be extended in future to the entire festival infrastructure.

Hospitality Area...

Hospitality Area...

Audio Production...

Audio Production...

The audio trailers were also in this area. There were two audio trucks and two video trucks.   The Montreux Jazz Festival has been recording their video in HD since 1991. Back then, HD was seen as ridiculous.  Now Funky Claude just sits back and smiles with his awesome video while everyone begs for it.  The entire festival is recorded live and there has been 5000 hours of tape recorded.  As an artist playing the festival, you have to be OK with being taped. Don’t worry, you get a free copy of your show! Marvin Gaye refused to be taped until he went to Funky Claude’s personal home and saw the quality of the HD video.  Only then did Marvin agree to be taped.

The fest is staffed with 1200 volunteers who are mostly students who make little in wages so many stay with someone they know or travel in from the outer towns.    There were perks for them throughout the festival. Food was a 15% off price, there was a masseuse backstage for cheap whenever they needed to relax, they were allowed to see music days on end for free, sometimes lucky ones, or not lucky, were allowed to work for the artists!

View of the busy sidewalk near the Auditorium...

View of the busy sidewalk near the Auditorium...

The two main Halls, Auditorium Stravinsky and The Miles Davis Hall, used for the evenings shows, were located inside the Convocation Center.

Montreux Convocation Center

Montreux Music & Convention Center

Backstage at Miles Davis Hall: The Miles Davis Hall, located in the Music & Convention Center, was built on as an audition to the Auditorium Stravinsky after the festival got to big for the solo stage and has a capacity of 2,000 people.  Once built, musicians, specifically jazz musicians, wanted to perform in that space rather than the large space.

Front of Miles Davis Hall, attached to Auditorium Stravinsky

Front of Miles Davis Hall, attached to Auditorium Stravinsky

Lights testing at Miles Davis Hall

Lights testing at Miles Davis Hall

I inquired about the Jam sessions that Sean Rickman had mentioned to me when we ran into each other at a red light on the street.   Artists are encouraged to go to the Montreux Cafe after their performances for impromptu jam sessions.   There are certain set concerts to help promote such a thing happening.  Unfortunately, the scene late night in the Montreux Cafe is not one that many artists of Sean’s caliber want to participate in.  Whenever we were near the area late night, the scene was full of young 20-something drunken ragers who were more interested the opposite sex then the music fueling the vibe.

Heading towards backstage...

Heading towards backstage MDH...

Rage!

Rage!

As we approached the backstage entrance to the Hall, I could hear Larry Graham‘s bass lines coming from sound check. We were let in to watch a portion of the sound check and sadly had to leave our camera outside.

I can tell you, standing in front of the stage with just me and Larry Graham and his low end was an absolute thrill.  In that moment I felt very special. I knew I was in a special moment, experiencing a very special thing. I couldn’t help but think about the people who had gotten me to this point. Thank you to my parents, the Sloanes and Josh! I wasn’t taking any of it for granted.

Larry Graham was on stage with his wife checking things out. His wife and he were sporting matching jerseys with #1 and #2 on the back. Josh, myself, Nathan and Helen watched for about 15 minutes. Taking it all in…

Auditorium Stravinsky

Auditorium Stravinsky

Auditorium Stravinsky this way...

Auditorium Stravinsky this way...

Backstage at Auditorium Stravinsky – We headed through a few corridors and up or down some stairs to end up in the Auditorium Stravinsky, situated in the Music & Convention Center.  The interior is completely paneled with cherry wood and has an audience capacity of 1800 seated and 3500 standing,

We immediately went backstage and were walking amongst the orchestra that would be backing Deep Purple that evening.  There was a red carpet on the floor which I found out led to the stage. How cute is that?  A red carpet to the stage!!

Lounge outside Auditorium Stravinsky inner room for drinkers, etc.

Lounge outside Auditorium Stravinsky inner room for drinkers, etc.

To the left of the red carpet was Claude’s dressing room and interestingly enough, Quincey’s Jones’, who stays all three weeks each year.  When our rep explained to us that her first job had been serving artists relations, Josh asked her which artist had been the most difficult.  Prince became the topic of discussion now as she spoke of going all over Montreux with Prince’s makeup artist looking for the correct wig and he apparently has a very impressive makeup collection.

Leaving the tour, this is the entrance to Stravinsky Area.

Leaving the tour, this is the entrance to Stravinsky Area.Deep Purple fans right around the corner.

The tour was informative and exciting.  As we left the building to go do some more shopping, we passed the entrance to the line for the Deep Purple show.  Diehard fans with purple hair and Deep Purple clothing were already lined up for the show that would be taking place in 2 hours.  I knew how they felt.  The music was calling…

Deep Purple fans ready to rage!

Deep Purple fans ready to rage!

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