Claude Nobs, who made the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland one of the world’s premier performing arts events, died yesterday in Geneva. He was injured Christmas Eve while skiing in Caux-sur-Montreux near his home. Taken to a hospital, Nobs fell into a coma from which he never awoke. He was 76.
Nobs was born in Montreux, apprenticed as a cook, then worked in the Montreux tourism office. As tourism director, in 1967 he organized his first jazz festival. It included the newly popular Charles Lloyd Quartet with Keith Jarrett, Ron McClure and Jack DeJohnette. The festival was a success and quickly gave Montreux status among European festivals equal to George Wein’s Newport in the United States. The following year, Bill Evans brought the festival added exposure through the release of At The Montreux Jazz Festival, preserving one of the pianist’s most powerful trio performances.
In addition to a panoply of jazz stars, over the years Nobs and the Montreux festival also presented pop, blues and rock performers, among them Roberta Flack, Aretha Franklin, Deep Purple, Prince, Ray Charles and Frank Zappa. In 1971, he was lauded as a hero for rescuing several youngsters caught in the Montreux Casino after it caught fire during a Zappa concert.
In an interview with the Swiss video magazine NVP3d, Nobs demonstrated that his love of music went beyond presenting others.
In later years, Nobs shared directorship of the Montreux festival with Quincy Jones, who conducted Miles Davis’s 1993 revival of Davis’s collaborations with Gil Evans. Jones returns each year to present new artists. In addition to the 1968 Bill Evans recording, the dozens of albums made at the Montreux festival when it was under Nobs’ direction included Evans’ 1970 and 1991 return engagements and memorable appearances by Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and a 1977 summit meeting of players as disparate as Dexter Gordon, Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Bob James and Woody Shaw.