Montreux Jazz Festival performers have included many luminaries of jazz and an eclectic mix of other genres, from Miles Davis and Ray Charles to David Bowie and Prince. It is the second largest festival of its kind in the world, after the Montreal Jazz Festival in Canada, which draws around 2,000,000 attendees. This jazz festival in Switzerland is certainly the most prestigious in Europe. It is held over sixteen days at the beginning of July and draws more than 200,000 attendees.
Montreux Jazz Festival History and Facts
Adding to its list of superlatives, the Montreux Switzerland Jazz Festival is one of the longest running jazz festivals in the world. It was first held for three days in 1967 and featured such artists as Keith Jarrett, Ella Fitzgerald, Soft Machine, and Nina Simone. Originally a pure jazz event, it broadened its scope in the 1970s, with folk artists like Marianne Faithful, rock icons like Pink Floyd, and the legendary guitarist Carlos Santana.
You need only look at the headliners for the Montreux Jazz Festival 2020 to see a veritable who's who of jazz, rock, blues, soul, and fusion. World music, especially the music of Brazil, is an important facet of the festival, and newcomers are encouraged to participate in competitions (which are among the ten free events). More than 1,000 perform 18 hours a day in 12 different venues. In addition to music, you can enjoy film screenings, workshops, seminars, and special exhibitions. Until 1971, it was held in the old Montreux Casino. But in December of that year, an overenthusiastic fan burned this venerable building down by lighting a flare during a Frank Zappa concert; that event is immortalized in the lyrics of the Deep Purple Song "Smoke on the Water."
Montreux Jazz Festival Location and Directions
The Switzerland Jazz Festival boasts one of the most beautiful venues of any of the top world festivals. The city of Montreux is located at the foot of the Swiss Alps on the shores of beautiful Lake Geneva, an area referred to as the Swiss Riviera that stretches the full length of the southern coast of the lake from Geneva to Montreux. This area has been a place for sophisticated summer vacations since the aristocracy of Europe discovered it in the nineteenth century. Ernest Hemingway brought Montreux to the attention of Americans in his 1929 novel A Farewell to Arms (this was the haven for the doomed fictional lovers Catherine Barkley and Frederic Henry). Once the casino was rebuilt in 1975, the festival moved back. But it outgrew that venue and most events now occur in the Convention Center located at Grand Rue 95, right on the lakeshore.
Public transport is excellent in this city. There are regularly scheduled trains and buses from different parts of the city, which offer a 10% discount for festival ticket holders. The high speed TGV train from Paris, Lausanne, and Geneva offers a two-for-one special during the festival. Excursion boats ply this beautiful lake during the season, and it is possible to arrive in Montreux by boat. During the festival, there are several party boats that offer different kinds of music during the evening hours.
Montreux Jazz Festival Tickets
The cheapest tickets to attend all the concerts of the Switzerland Jazz Festival concerts goes for more than $1,600. There are higher prices for packages including a number of VIP features. There are individual concert tickets for those who don't have that kind of money or who want to attend only certain performances. Individual tickets go on sale in April, but do be aware that certain major concerts (like the 2011 Sting concert) are sold out months before that. No children under age six are allowed into the concert venues. Those under age 16 must be accompanied by an adult. Certain venues (Studio 41, the Cocktail Garden, Montreux Jazz Café, and Montreaux Jazz Boat) are only for those over age 18.
Montreux Jazz Festival Lodging
There are a large number of hotels and other accommodations available throughout the city as this is an extremely popular destination for Switzerland vacations during the summer. You should make your reservations as far in advance as possible, especially during the festival dates. One of the finest Switzerland luxury hotels can be found in Montreux close to the Montreux Jazz Festival 2020 venue. The Fairmont le Montreux Palace at Grand Rue 100 is located only about 500 feet down the road from the Convention Center. Everything is pricey in Switzerland in general. Montreux is even pricier. Prices go up in the summer and go up again during the festival. You can, however, find relatively inexpensive lodging in a number of smaller hotels and pensions, especially along the lake in the city's southern outskirts and inland. Try the melodically named Tralala Hotel on the city's southern outskirts at Rue du Temple 2.
Image: Muriel Rochat / Montreux Jazz Festival Foundation