‘You get the sense that anything could happen’: Director Oliver Murray on the magic of Montreux Jazz Festival

“We all came out to Montreux/ On the Lake Geneva shoreline...” So goes the opening lines of Deep Purple’s classic rock song, “Smoke on the Water”.

Montreux Jazz Festival, the same event that inspired that immortal song, launches its 58th edition on Friday 5 July, with a full schedule of performances to take place over the next two weeks.

Across the festival, ticket-holders will see live sets from artists such as Alice Cooper, Mahalia, PJ Harvey, The National, Dionne Warwick, Paolo Nutini, Jessie Ware, Justice, Diana Krall, Brittany Howard, Massive attack, Lenny Kravitz, Tems and RAYE.

Meanwhile rock legends Deep Purple will return on 8 July to play the brand new Lake Stage, built over Lac Léman (Lake Geneva).

The Independent is once again the exclusive global news partner of the festival.

Music fans interested in learning more about the historic festival can tune into They All Came Out to Montreux, a BMG Films and Beyond documentary from renowned British director Oliver Murray.

The three-part series tells the story of the “Rolls Royce of music festivals” and includes archive footage of some of its most memorable performances, from Nina Simone and Miles Davis to Prince and David Bowie.

Claude Nobs with Muddy Waters (Montreux Jazz Festival)
Claude Nobs with Muddy Waters (Montreux Jazz Festival)

It explores how the young Nobs came to found what is now regarded as one of the most prestigious music events in the world, and details some of its most memorable moments, including the Montreux Casino fire of 1971 that inspired Deep Purple’s “Smoke on the Water”.

“I’ve been really lucky to have worked with some fantastic musicians,” Murray, who has directed projects about The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, told The Independent.

“The common denominator for a lot of them has been that they all have this special affection for Montreux, and particularly for the late Claude Nobs who founded it.”

He viewed They All Came Out to Montreux as an opportunity to preserve memories of “an era that has passed”, using footage from the extraordinary archive at Nobs’ former chalet in Caud, overlooking Montreux, where the festival manager once hosted friends including Bowie, Quincy Jones and Phil Collins.

David Bowie larks around at Claude Nobs’ house (Montreux Jazz Festival archives)
David Bowie larks around at Claude Nobs’ house (Montreux Jazz Festival archives)

The BBC documentary also interviews former colleagues and musicians such as Keith Richards, Carlos Santana, Quincy Jones and Herbie Hancock, all of whom wax lyrical about the festival.

“I think what’s special about Montreux is its amazing energy – that it has the potential to completely crash and burn, as well as succeed,” Murray said.

“Montreux has this culture of trying things, and sometimes you fail, but that doesn’t matter. It means the musicians have the freedom to do whatever they want, but that could mean turning up 40 minutes late or just sitting at the piano and staring at the audience.”

He added: “It’s this rare space in music where you feel like anything can happen. There’s no safety net, and it’s incredibly intimate.”

Murray pointed out that Montreux wasn’t just a space for musicians to perform – they also created and recorded there.

“Claude became like an oasis for me, going to Claude’s library and just [looking through] the record collection and playing Mead Lux Lewis, you name it,” Keith Richards says in the documentary.

“I think that his love for [music] was the fulcrum of everything he did.”

They All Came Out to Montreux is available now on BBC iPlayer. Montreux Jazz Festival 2024 takes place from Friday 5 July to Friday 20 July.