The Early Years: 1930s – 1950s

Claude Nobs as a child

Claude Nobs was born on February 4, 1936 in Territet.

After finishing school, Claude had an epiphany – he wanted to become a chef and cook up some delicious adventures! Lucky for him, an acquaintance of his dad’s pulled some strings and landed him an apprenticeship at a fancy hotel in Basel. Two and a half years flew by, and during this time, Claude didn’t just master the art of cooking; he also picked up German like a boss, all while falling head over heels in love with the culinary world. As a testament to his dedication and skills, he aced the apprenticeship with flying colors!

Young Claude in a suit

Eager to broaden his horizons, Claude set his sights on the prestigious hotel school in Lausanne – the cream of the crop. But, as you know, dreams sometimes need a little extra dough. So, our ambitious chef landed a gig in Zurich, joining the bustling restaurant team at none other than Zurich’s most important concert hall. After some hard work and saving up, he finally had the funds to attend the first course at Lausanne Hotel School, where he dived into the world of waiters, bartenders, and maîtres d’hôtel. The course spanned five fun-filled months of hands-on training, and Claude got to experience the hospitality buzz in a hotel all the way over in Düsseldorf!

Claude Nobs as a child

Once the course was in the bag, Claude found himself at a bank in Montreux – yes, you heard that right! He took a detour into the world of finance to spice things up even further and gain valuable experience.

Claude’s journey had more twists and turns than a rollercoaster, but he embraced each new challenge with gusto. Who knows what delightful surprises await this culinary maestro next? One thing’s for sure – his passion for cooking and zest for life will keep the flavors of his journey exciting and delicious!

The 60s & 70s

From the early 1960s to the early 1970s, Claude Nobs embarked on an exciting journey that would shape the music scene in Montreux and beyond.

After a brief stint at a bank in Montreux, Claude joined the Swiss National Tourist Office in Paris. Although the city of lights had its charm, the work didn’t quite satisfy him. Luckily, an opportunity arose back in Montreux when Raymond Jaussi, the head of the local tourist office, offered him a position as an accountant.

Back in his sleepy hometown, Montreux, Raymond Jaussi’s decision to bring the first International Television Symposium and the Rose d’Or to the town in 1961 laid the foundation for something big. Claude saw the potential and needed an event location, contacts with musicians, and funds to organize concerts. With determination, he organized cultural events for the local youth and even managed to introduce small blues concerts during the youth events. Raymond Jaussi recognized Claude’s passion for this work and entrusted him with developing ideas for the tourist office. Soon, Claude found himself organizing concerts, not just within existing events like the Rose d’Or and the International TV Symposium but also around them.

The turning point came in 1964 when the Rolling Stones held their first concert outside of the UK in Montreux as part of the Rose d’Or event.

Raymond Jaussi furthered Claude’s development by arranging for him to teach part-time at a hotel school in Glion while continuing his work at the tourist office. This experience, along with a research trip to the USA, allowed Claude to expand his connections in the music industry.
In New York, Claude’s meeting with Nesuhi Ertegün, president of Atlantic Records, opened doors to countless opportunities, including inviting Roberta Flack to play at the Rose d’Or.

Claude Nobs talking on the phone

In 1967, with the help of Géo Voumard and René Langel, Claude orchestrated the first Montreux Jazz Festival with a modest budget. The festival featured a showstopping performance by Charles Lloyd and his quartet, captivating audiences and sparking widespread coverage through Swiss radio recordings, reaching even the United States. The festival’s resounding success paved the way for what Quincy Jones later dubbed the “Rolls-Royce of music festivals.”

Over the next four years, Claude’s passion and dedication solidified the Montreux Jazz Festival’s reputation on both national and international stages.
He envisioned a festival that transcended jazz, focusing on exceptional music, top-notch sound, and remarkable audiovisual recordings that left both artists and audiences in awe. Claude wanted this festival to be a home and a melting pot for artists and music industry titans, ensuring that music history would be etched in its stages.

And indeed, history was made early on as countless unforgettable live performances were captured in the best quality possible. Iconic albums like Bill Evans’ 1968 record and the legendary “Swiss Movements” by Eddie Harris & Les McCann in 1969, which sold over a million copies, immortalized the festival’s spirit.

In tandem with his success at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Claude continued to organize concerts for the Rose d’Or and other events. In summer, the Montreux Jazz Festival took center stage, while the rest of the year saw an electrifying lineup under the Montreux Pop, Montreux Super Pop, Montreux Rock, and Montreux-Vevey Music Festival labels. The star-studded roster featured legendary groups like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple, Santana, Jethro Tull, Pink Floyd, and Frank Zappa.

Funky Claude’s journey from a bank to a bustling hub
of musical brilliance and cultural milestones stands
as a testament to passion, vision, and a touch of serendipity. Montreux became the epitome of harmony, where notes danced in the air, creating melodies that would echo through generations.

Claude Nobs with Aretha Franklin
Written wishes from Pink Floyd

Smoke on the Water – “Funky Claude” is Born

In December 1971, during a Frank Zappa concert, a wild incident took place that would forever be etched in music history. A flare set the old Montreux casino ablaze, leaving it in ruins. Interestingly, Deep Purple had planned to record their upcoming album Machine Head at the casino. But never fear, “Funky Claude” came to the rescue, helping them find a new recording spot in Montreux. This iconic event inspired Deep Purple’s legendary anthem, Smoke on the Water.

With the Montreux Jazz Festival’s venue gone, Claude faced a challenge. Yet, with the support of his boss, Raymond Jaussi, he rose to the occasion, organizing the 1972 festival with gusto. He found a new temporary home and even added more venues and outdoor concerts. Instead of taking a step back, the 1972 edition was another giant leap forward.

The festival kept evolving, and in 1973, it bloomed into a two-week extravaganza, hosting the first performance of Miles Davis at the Montreux Jazz Festival and for Carole King it was the first performance outside of the USA.

As fate would have it, 1973 marked a turning point in Claude’s career. Neshui Ertegun lured him with an unusual, handwritten contract to join the newly founded WEA International as an executive. It was an offer too good to resist. In that very year, Claude also founded Montreux Sounds SA.

But don’t worry, Claude’s heart remained firmly attached to the Montreux Jazz Festival. He not only continued to be its mastermind but also delved into artist promotion and explored cutting-edge technologies for WEA International.

The festival found a new home in the new casino and thrived through the ’70s under Claude’s skilled direction and unwavering presence. Each year brought an eclectic mix of music from various genres, featuring established stars and up-and-coming talents. The festival’s lineup always boasted a delightful medley of musical flavors and diverse artists.

Claude’s passion for music connected him with artists, executives, scientists, and technologists, forming lasting friendships across different spheres.

The 80s: More Music, More Fun

Throughout the 80s, Claude continued to be the heart and soul of the Montreux Jazz Festival while juggling his executive role at WEA International.

Claude Nobs as a boat captain

The iconic Mountain Studios in Montreux, where Queen recorded their legendary album “Jazz,” became a hub of musical magic. Queen, Freddie Mercury, Brian May, and Roger Taylor, as well as AC/DC, Led Zeppelin, The Rolling Stones, and many other artists, graced the studios with their talents. It was here that “Under Pressure” by Queen and David Bowie came to life, creating an unforgettable musical masterpiece.

Claude Nobs with the group Queen
Claude Nobs with David Bowie

The festival itself was not only known for its incredible lineup but also for its eye-catching posters. In 1982, painter and sculptor Jean Tinguely’s design gave the Montreux Jazz Festival its distinctive logo, which continues to be used to this day. The following year, Keith Haring brought his artistic flair to the festival, even designing Claude’s shirt!

Claude’s farmhouse, affectionately known as “Le Picotin” and now part of the “Claude Nobs Chalets,” became a cherished meeting place. Here, Claude displayed his legendary hosting skills, bringing artists, industry executives, journalists, and friends together. His hospitality and culinary prowess were as renowned as his ability to foster creativity and collaboration among people from diverse backgrounds.

Claude with friends in 1983
Claude with Claude Nobs glasses on
Claude with Atari Pac-Man

Claude’s world took a playful turn when Warner took over Atari.

But he always knew when it was time to be serious and prepared for new challenges.

In 1986, Claude found a partner for life in Thierry Amsallem, who joined him in exploring and utilizing the emerging digital technologies for the Montreux Jazz Festival. But amidst all the tech advances, Claude never abandoned the analog touch and feel that brought warmth and soul to the festival.

Claude Backstage in 1988
Claude with Thierry Amsallem

Analog touch and feel.

Claude in 1984
Claude in 1988
Claude dancing with Joan Baez backstage
Claude and Joan Baez backstage hugging

With his magnetic personality and genuine passion for music, Claude forged unforgettable memories on and off the stage. From sharing hugs and dances with Joan Baez to jamming on the harmonica with Etta James, Claude’s love for music knew no bounds.

The 80s were a time of continuous growth and innovation, and Claude Nobs led the way with his unwavering spirit and unbridled enthusiasm for the world of music.

Claude Nobs on stage
Claude Nobs in the mirror

The 90s

The 90s marked a new era of innovation and milestones for Claude and the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Always striving for the best, Claude persuaded SONY Broadcast to film the 1991, 1992, and 1993 festivals in cutting-edge HDTV, making Montreux the world’s first festival to be captured in such high-quality format. Adding to this achievement, the legendary Quincy Jones agreed to co-produce these three extraordinary years.

Claude Nobs and Quincy
Claude with the friends

In the 90s, the Montreux Jazz Festival continued its tradition of celebrating diverse music with exceptional performances. Quincy Jones orchestrated a mesmerizing concert, taking the audience on a musical journey from Bebop to Hiphop. Iconic artists and innovative talents united on stage, creating an electrifying fusion of genres. This musical odyssey embodied the festival’s commitment to pushing boundaries and offering an unforgettable experience. It exemplified Claude’s vision for quality music and top-tier performances, solidifying the festival’s reputation as the “Rolls-Royce of festivals.”

Claude an Quincy in 1991
Claude with Etta James on stage
Claude with a picotin phone
Claude and Herbie Hancock
Claude staff backstage
Claude and Emmanuel Bowie

In 1995, the Montreux Jazz Festival continued to push boundaries by commissioning David Bowie to create the festival’s poster digitally, a groundbreaking move at the time. Concurrently, the festival launched its first-ever website, embracing the digital age.

The year 1996 marked two significant milestones. First, it was the 30th anniversary of the Montreux Jazz Festival, and second, the festival became its own legal entity when the Montreux Jazz Festival Foundation was registered. This move aligned with Claude’s vision of maintaining independence and the freedom to make decisions swiftly without corporate bureaucracy.

In the same year, Claude spearheaded the creation of the first DVD for WEA, commemorating the 50th anniversary of Atlantic Records. This DVD featured 50 video clips and a 60-minute interview with Atlantic founder Ahmet Ertegun, a remarkable tribute to music history.

1996 was also when the seeds were sown for the “Live from Montreux” book set, which would see its release in 2007. This project brought together instrumental figures like Julio Santo Domingo, Claude himself, and Perry Richardson.

Claude at the 30th edition of the festival
Claude with book publishers and writers

The following year, in 1997, the Montreux Jazz Festival took
a decisive leap into the digital age, embracing cutting-edge technology for recording concerts, both audio and video. This move further solidified the festival’s commitment to delivering the highest quality music experiences to its audience.

Claude Nobs with Shania Twain and Mutt Lange
Claude Nobs 1998

Throughout the 90s, Claude’s dedication to excellence and his foresight in embracing technological advancements ensured that the Montreux Jazz Festival remained a trailblazer in the music world.

The 00s & 10s

Throughout his illustrious career, Claude always held a deep appreciation for the invaluable contributions made by artists to the Montreux Jazz Festival. He recognized that it was the artists who breathed life into the festival, allowing it to flourish day and night for over two weeks. Their presence made it possible for the festival to encompass not only the main stages with their incredible diversity and quality of music, spanning various styles and forms, but also the Festival Off, exhibitions, films, piano, guitar, and voice competitions, as well as enriching workshops.

Claude’s passion for music and his genuine admiration for both new, emerging artists and seasoned masters were evident in every aspect of the festival. From the fresh and undiscovered talents to the established legends, Claude ensured that the Montreux Jazz Festival provided a platform for artists to shine and share their art with the world.

In 2001, as Claude reached the age of 65, he decided it was time to retire from his professional career with Warner. This pivotal moment allowed him to redirect his undivided attention to the Montreux Jazz Festival, a project that had become much more than a festival; it had become a testament to his vision and dedication to the world of music.

Claude in 2001

With retirement offering him the freedom to focus solely on the festival, Claude’s commitment to its growth and success soared to even greater heights. The Montreux Jazz Festival continued to thrive, celebrating music in all its forms, and becoming a cherished gathering for artists and music enthusiasts from around the globe. Claude’s tireless efforts and unwavering passion for the festival left an indelible mark on the world of music, and his legacy would forever be intertwined with the festival he had nurtured and built with love and devotion.

Claude with Neil Young in 2001
Claude with train toys in 2001
Claude in the Picoti projection room in 2002
Claude with the festival staff in 2002
Claude with Phil Collins in 2002
Claude with the staff in 2002
Claude with Paul Simon in 2003

In 2006, Claude’s dreams came to life with a truly spectacular year. He had always nurtured the desire for a chalet that would be a perfect haven, catered to his needs and passions. And so, “Le Grillon” was brought into existence, a remarkable chalet that seamlessly combined his living space, workspace, and cherished collections of records and trains. It was a place where Claude could embrace his true self, immerse in his passions, and also serve as a warm host to his beloved guests.

The construction of “Le Grillon” marked the completion of a delightful array of three chalets, which would forever be known as the Claude Nobs chalets. These exquisite chalets embodied Claude’s spirit, showcasing his love for life, music, and the arts. Each nook and corner was thoughtfully curated to reflect his unique character, creating an inviting and inspiring atmosphere for anyone fortunate enough to experience it.

“Le Grillon” became more than just a chalet; it was a sanctuary where Claude’s creativity thrived, and his artistic vision took flight. Surrounded by the scenic beauty of Montreux, it provided him with the tranquility and inspiration he needed to continue shaping the Montreux Jazz Festival into an unparalleled celebration of music.

As Claude welcomed friends, artists, and music enthusiasts into the Claude Nobs chalets, he shared not just a physical space but a profound sense of warmth and appreciation for the arts. It became a place where meaningful connections were fostered, ideas were exchanged, and the joy of music united people from all walks of life.

The completion of the Claude Nobs chalets marked another milestone in Claude’s illustrious journey.

Le Grillon chalet

In 2006, the Montreux Jazz Festival marked its 40th birthday alongside Atlantic Records’ 60-year milestone, creating a momentous celebration of music and creativity. The festival welcomed music enthusiasts from around the world, presenting spectacular concerts filled with unforgettable performances. Highlighting the event were touching tribute shows dedicated to music legends Ahmet and Neshui Ertegun. These shows brought together iconic artists from various genres, honoring the profound impact of the Ertegun brothers on the music industry. The performances resonated with emotion and gratitude, showcasing the enduring power of music to unite and inspire. This anniversary celebration transcended ordinary concerts, becoming a historic moment in music that touched hearts and connected people worldwide. The 2006 Montreux Jazz Festival and Atlantic Records’ milestone left an indelible mark in music history, celebrating life, creativity, and the profound artistry that continues to uplift us all.

People on stage
Claude and Stevie Nicks
Claude and Stevie Nicks
Claude with Nile Rogers

In the years that followed, the Montreux Jazz Festival continued its captivating blend of renowned artists and hidden gems, a testament to Claude’s visionary curation. Unforgettable highlights included electrifying performances by Prince and the then-unknown Adele, showcasing Claude’s talent for spotting future stars. Year after year, the festival’s reputation for excellence soared, drawing global music enthusiasts with its diverse lineup spanning jazz, blues, rock, soul, and more. Beyond the performances, Montreux retained its warm and welcoming atmosphere, a tribute to Claude’s genuine love for music and community. Claude’s untimely passing on January 12, 2013, marked the end of an era, leaving a profound void. Yet, his legacy lived on through the festival and tributes poured in worldwide. His impact extended beyond Montreux, revolutionizing music preservation through audiovisual archives. As the Montreux stages continued to echo with music, Claude’s memory inspired artists and music lovers, ensuring his legacy endures. Though gone, his pursuit of musical excellence remains interwoven with the festival’s timeless magic, forever echoing through its halls.

Claude with Carlos Santana in 2006

Claude’s Legacy

Claude’s legacy lives on in three organizations:

Montreux Sounds Logo

The audiovisual archives of the Montreux Jazz Festival, meticulously preserved from 1967 to 2013, are under the custodianship of Montreux Sounds SA. This organization has diligently maintained and safeguarded these historic recordings, capturing the essence of musical brilliance that graced the festival’s stages for decades.

The significance and cultural value of these archives are recognized on a global scale, as they have been inscribed into the UNESCO Memory of the World register. This prestigious recognition highlights the exceptional importance of these recordings, not only as a testament to the artistic prowess showcased at the Montreux Jazz Festival but also as a valuable cultural heritage for humanity.

Through these archives, Claude Nobs’ commitment to preserving musical history and providing artists with a platform to shine continues to reverberate across generations. The rich tapestry of performances, spanning various genres and styles, serves as a time capsule of the evolution of music and the indelible impact it has on our lives.

The UNESCO designation ensures that these treasured recordings will be safeguarded and made accessible to future generations, allowing music enthusiasts, historians, and scholars to delve into the past and relish the magic of the Montreux Jazz Festival.

Claude Nobs Foundation Logo
UNESCO Montreux Jazz Logo

The Claude Nobs Foundation, established in 2013, stands as the dedicated guardian and curator of Claude Nobs’ remarkable audio and visual archives for science as part of the Montreux Jazz Digital Project. This extraordinary collection represents one of the world’s largest compilations of “live” music recordings, each meticulously captured at the renowned Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland, spanning from its inception in 1967 until 2013.

Originating with a focus on jazz during the festival’s early days, the collection has flourished and evolved over the course of 47 years. Embracing an ever-expanding range of musical genres, it now boasts a captivating variety of styles, including blues, rock, rap, soul, Latin, and more, each contributing to its rich tapestry.

Driven by the EPFL Cultural Heritage & Innovation Center, the Montreux Jazz Digital Project has emerged as a vibrant hub for technological advancements, cultural exploration, and the advancement of social sciences. Its existence acts as a catalyst for transformative ideas and an incubator for innovative breakthroughs.

By embracing open science principles, this digital platform embodies a spirit of collaboration and knowledge-sharing, encouraging experts from different domains to converge and cross-pollinate their insights. As a result, the Montreux Digital Project is not only preserving the artistic brilliance of the Montreux Jazz Festival but also fostering a dynamic space for cross-disciplinary exploration.

This unique initiative reflects Claude Nobs’ visionary approach to preserving music’s legacy while embracing the cutting-edge technologies and methodologies of the modern era. The Montreux Digital Project stands as a testament to the enduring impact of music and culture, serving as a bridge between the past, present, and future for generations to come.

Preserving the essence and spontaneity of live performances, these recordings offer a unique and immersive experience for listeners, transporting them directly to the heart of each breathtaking concert. With every note and emotion preserved, this collection is a treasure trove for music enthusiasts and researchers alike, providing a window into the sheer brilliance and magic of live music.

The Claude Nobs Foundation is committed to the meticulous curation and conservation of these invaluable recordings, ensuring they remain protected for future generations to explore and enjoy. Scholars and researchers from various disciplines can delve into this repository of musical history, unearthing fresh insights into the evolution of music and its profound impact on culture and society.