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Montreux Jazz Festival turns 50 – New Orleans ready to party with a purpose at Essence fest

Legendary American jazz musician Charles Lloyd, who headlined the first festival in Montreux in 1967 performs on stage at the opening of the 50th edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival on June 30, in Montreux. (AFP)
Legendary American jazz musician Charles Lloyd, who headlined the first festival in Montreux in 1967 performs on stage at the opening of the 50th edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival on June 30, in Montreux. (AFP)

MONTREUX, Switzerland, July 1, (Agencies): Two of the world’s greatest jazz musicians opened the star-studded 50th edition of the Montreux Jazz Festival on Thursday, with big names such as Neil Young and PJ Harvey also set to perform at this year’s anniversary event.

Legendary American jazz musician Charles Lloyd, who headlined the first festival in the idyllic Swiss town of Montreux in 1967, kicked off the two-week celebration of music alongside fabled jazz pianist Monty Alexander, who first played Montreux in 1976.

“It’s very emotional, because those two guys are part of the history of the music and to have those two guys loving Montreux, helping us celebrating the 50th, it is certainly one of the most beautiful gifts that I could expect,” festival chief Mathieu Jaton told AFP ahead of the concerts, as all around him staff rushed to make the final preparations for the annual influx of music lovers.

Earlier Thursday, with the sun glimmering on nearby Lake Geneva, Alexander and his band gathered for a sound check in the dark interior of Montreux’s old Casino, the festival’s original home and around a kilometre (mile) from the current main concert venues.

With a broad smile, the Jamaican-born musician sat down at his grand piano and let his fingers fly.

“I will be bringing it. Not just the straight ahead so-called classic version, but I’m going to bring in some, as we say in Jamaica, yard roots rhythm and get people to groove too,” the 72-year-old told AFP.

Lloyd, 78, who primarily plays tenor saxophone and flute, also said he was looking forward to Thursday’s concert.

“I’m doing this because I love it, and it gives me something, and it is about inspiration and consolation, and the world we live in I feel could use that, so I want to share that with others,” he told AFP.

While the opening night will be all about jazz, the Montreux festival long ago drastically expanded it repertoire, becoming a magnet for prominent names and rising stars across music genres.

This year’s main attraction is perhaps folk rock icon Neil Young. The Canadian singer-songwriter will hit the main stage on July 12, 15 years after his only previous appearance at the festival.

He will be joined by a seemingly endless list of stars, including British experimental rocker PJ Harvey and US punk legend Patti Smith.

The 2016 edition will also feature US rock band ZZ Top, with their recognisable long beards, and Northern Irish singer-songwriter Van Morrison, US singer-songwriter Lana Del Rey and archetypal guitar hero Carlos Santana.

Also included in the line-up is legendary American producer and composer Quincy Jones, considered one of the greatest supporters of the festival, as well as British soul and pop band Simply Red.

British rock band Muse will be there too, playing “in a little hall of 4,000 capacity, which is just amazing,” Jaton said.


Also on the ticket is influential English hard rock band Deep Purple, who have a deep connection with Montreux.

The band’s iconic “Smoke on the Water” tells the story of a fire that took place during a Frank Zappa concert here in 1971.

Festival founder Claude Nobs, who died in 2013, rescued a number of people from the flames and was immortalised in the song as “Funky Claude”.

“Every night is a headline,” Jaton insisted. “I could name all of them because to me all of them are stars.”

Jaton, who worked closely with Nobs for two decades, hailed his “crazy idea” that half a century on has morphed into “a brand travelling all over the world.”

“I’m so proud to be part of it, so honoured and so happy every day to wake up and say: I’m running one of the most amazing events in the world.”


NEW ORLEANS: Music has always been at the heart of the annual Essence Festival, now in its 22nd year, and this year will be no different.

Fans will get to hear from first-timers Mariah Carey, Puff Daddy and Jeremih as well as from festival veterans Charlie Wilson, Maxwell, New Edition, Tyrese and Lalah Hathaway — all of whom were scheduled to perform inside the Superdome from Friday through Sunday.

“We’ve wanted her to perform at the festival for years,” said Essence Communications Inc President Michelle Ebanks of Carey. “She is such an extraordinary talent.”

At a news conference Thursday, Ebanks said she was thrilled to return to New Orleans. When she arrived, she said everywhere she went people were welcoming her home: “And that’s what this weekend feels like, not just for me but for all those who attend.”

Continuing with its theme to “party with a purpose,” organizers have prepared an “empowerment experience” in the city’s convention center that includes insight into current events and beauty and fashion trends as well as opportunities for entrepreneurs to get help growing their businesses.

Ebanks said launching the free “Money & Power” Expo Entrepreneurship Village is a “natural fit for us.”

“We’ve found that a number of people were attending the festival to business network,” Ebanks said. “There were organic networking forums popping up at the festivals in previous years, and we found that people are really hungry for this kind of opportunity.”

That’s exactly why Alejandra Y. Castillo, national director of the Minority Business Development Agency, said they’ve returned this year to partner with Essence. Last year, she said the MBDA did a two-day workshop during the festival to “test the waters.”

“We absolutely saw a hunger for more,” she said. “We also noticed there were more organizations doing similar things around the festival and thought, ‘Why not bring them all together under the same tent?’”

Castillo noted that African-American women are one of the fastest growing groups of entrepreneurs in the country, starting businesses at rates six times faster than the national level. “During these three magical days, there will be a lot of robust workshops on technical assistance, grant opportunities and on how to help this market leap, run and grow their businesses,” she said.

The entrepreneur expo will be part of the festival’s empowerment sessions that also include demonstrations, author signings, celebrity meet-and-greets and a celebration of gospel talent.

Editor-in-chief Vanessa De Luca also thanked and acknowledged the “more than 500” volunteers who participated in their second annual “Day of Service,” helping to give halls and classrooms at Cohen College Prep a fresh coat of paint. British singer Estelle, one of the event’s headline performers this year, also participated in the community program.

“I mean, we’re down here for fun. Why not give back while we can?” Natalie Stuppard, who is visiting from Baltimore, told.

Ebanks said they also plan Sunday to remember Prince, the icon who died April 21. Prince performed twice at the festival but also was instrumental in some of the festival’s programming.

“Our editors are releasing a tribute book to him that will be available during the festival and we’ll also do a tribute to him on stage,” she said.

Performances are scheduled by Prince’s band, the New Power Generation, as well as Larry Graham, Marsha Ambrosius, Kelly Price, D-Nice and Doug E. Fresh. New Orleans’ natives Luke James, the Stooges Brass Band and the Roots of Music also will take the stage and participate in a special second line in Prince’s honor, Ebanks said.


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