Montreux Jazz Cafe could be local musicians' ticket to playing at Montreux Jazz Festival

Mr Mathieu Jaton, chief executive of the Montreux Jazz Festival, at the club and cafe.
Mr Mathieu Jaton, chief executive of the Montreux Jazz Festival, at the club and cafe.PHOTO: AZIZ HUSSIN FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

Space will allow Asian artists to perform and have a shot at playing at Montreux festival, CEO says

Mr Mathieu Jaton, chief executive of the iconic Montreux Jazz Festival, says it was relatively seamless for him to take over the running of the event, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Before its founder Claude Nobs died aged 76 in 2013 and Mr Jaton took the reins, he had already worked closely with Mr Nobs for two decades.

The toughest thing for him in taking charge of the festival is to do it without his mentor.

Mr Jaton, 41, says: "The most difficult thing for me was to be alone because with Claude, we were always travelling together, thinking together, always sharing ideas together, we were really like son and father."

The late founder's presence looms large at the Singapore branch of Montreux Jazz Cafe, which Mr Jaton was in town to launch.

It has plenty of pictures of Mr Nobs with the artists who have played the festival, including Canadian singer Neil Young and American singer Norah Jones. The cafe's logo is a silhouette of Mr Nobs adjusting his bowtie.

  • BOOK IT / OMAR - BASTIAN BAKER - JERRY LEONIDE

  • WHERE: Montreux Jazz Cafe, 10 Claymore Road

    WHEN: Today, 6pm

    ADMISSION: $138 from www.montreuxjazzcafe.com/

When we say five-star, it's not luxury, it's hospitality, it's respect.

MR MATHIEU JATON, chief executive of Montreux Jazz Festival, on providing a five-star experience to artists, audience and festival planners

Mr Jaton adds that the cafe's signature items are based on dishes that Mr Nobs cooked for some of the music icons. These include the B.B. Burger, named after blues guitarist B.B. King; the coquelet facon Quincy Jones, named after the famed American producer; and Ella's Cheesecake, named after jazz legend Ella Fitzgerald.

The Singapore outlet is Montreux Jazz Cafe's first in Asia. It joins other branches in Switzerland, France and the United Arab Emirates.

It launches officially tonight with a concert, featuring British soul singer Omar, Swiss singer Bastian Baker and Mauritian pianist Jerry Leonide.

Besides programming singers and musicians from around the world to perform at the cafe, Mr Jaton is also keen on getting Singapore and regional talents to perform there regularly.

His team seeks out new talents worldwide through initiatives such as the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation. Performing at the cafe could also be a springboard to playing at the Montreux Jazz Festival, which in 1988 had home-grown jazz veteran Jeremy Monteiro in its line-up.

Mr Jaton says: "I want to use this platform in Singapore to tell the Asian artists, you can come to the cafe, you can play here and there will be an audience and there will be people listening to you and, if we are happy with your performance here, you will have the right to go to Montreux. This is something very important for me."

Since it started 50 years ago, the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland has become one of the world's most iconic annual music events. Its multi-genre line-up is often populated by music luminaries, which has ranged from jazz trailblazer Miles Davis to rock greats Led Zeppelin.

It held its 50th edition in June and July with acts such as Icelandic band Sigur Ros, American singer Patti Smith and British band Deep Purple.

Mr Jaton says the Montreux Jazz Festival will always stand out from other music events around the world because of its commitment to providing a "five-star experience" to the artists, audience and festival partners.

"When we say five-star, it's not luxury, it's hospitality, it's respect," Mr Jaton, who is married and has a nine-year-old daughter, tells The Straits Times. "So for me, the DNA of Montreux, my way of doing things, is really to share my passion with authenticity, intimacy and cosiness with the artists and cosiness with the audience.

"I come from the hotel business too, so the most important thing for me is to welcome people carefully."

He cites the example of Lady Gaga, who enjoyed playing at the festival last year so much that she decided to stay at the Lake Geneva venue longer, despite her tight touring schedule.

"She looked at the view and the lake and said, 'Can I stay a little bit longer?' She stayed for four days in a big hotel up in the mountains and she was tweeting and posting on Facebook, big pictures, beautiful Montreux, and that's the best publicity I can have.

"I don't care if I have to pay five nights in a big hotel. Of course, it's a cost, but at the end, the return is that the artists are happy to be here."

The respect the festival accords its artists is returned fully.

In late 2014, Mr Jaton and his team booked acclaimed British singer Sam Smith to sing at the following year's festival.

A few months later, it was announced that Smith was nomina- ted for six Grammys and he eventually won four.

Mr Jaton was sure that Smith would cancel his Montreux gig as he was scheduled to play on the smaller stage as a non-headlining act, but the artist honoured his commitment.

"But he was so nice. He said, 'I'm so happy to be here, it's an honour for me to be in Montreux, everybody talked to me about Montreux Jazz Festival.' He did an amazing show."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 07, 2016, with the headline 'Montreux Fest launches first Jazz Cafe in Asia'. Print Edition | Subscribe