Keith Emerson’s Tribute To Funky Claude Nobs
Keith Emerson has paid tribute to ‘Funky’ Claude Nobs, who died last week at the age of 76.
The founder of the Montreux Jazz Festival passed away on January 10 after a skiing accident during his Christmas break.
Nobs – remembered as ‘Funky’ Claude in the Deep Purple track Smoke On The Water, which tells the story of a fire at the 1971 festival – launched the event in 1967 along with Geo Voumard and Rene Langel. Atlantic Records brothers Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun helped turn the trio’s ambitions into reality.
Now Emerson, who played with ELP at Montreux in 1997, says: “Claude was responsible for turning a sleepy Swiss village, once a year, into a haven of jazz, blues, rock and even classical. Every artist that meant anything almost begged to be there.
“When all the jazz, blues and rock had left, everything went back to some sense of normality. After they’d gone everything became quiet again. I know, because I lived there briefly.”
The keyboardist recalls the only entertainment to be found outside festival season was one small bar on the town’s main street. He’s sure Queen, who once owned Mountain Studios in Montreux, would have been there.
“It had a couple of arcade games you could play,” Emerson says. “One was a cowboy shoot-out. Queen must have played it. Hence, Another One Bites The Dust and Radio Ga Ga.
“I feel privileged to have briefly lived in Montreux, before Queen. In the presence of Claude you would suddenly have this grand fortissimo – and then a solitary cadenza.”
During his time as a citizen of the town he got to know Nobs. He recalls: “Claude was with me when we went water-skiing with Phil Carson across Lake Geneva. I pulled my shorts down. Enough said about that – except to acknowledge Claude’s improvisations upon a theme.
“Claude’s place was a sanctuary where he meticulously catalogued all the recordings and accounted for the many gems we listen to today. My favourites are the huge ensemble of Montreux jazzers playing the Average White Band’s Pick Up The Pieces, and Les McCann and Eddie Harris playing Cold Duck Time for the first time.
“It doesn’t come much better than that, thanks to Claude, who is now up there with the Great Understanders of Music. Even to non-music lovers he put a part of the world on the map beyond The Sound Of Music.
“If any more smoke drifts across Lake Geneva it will be Claude Nobs overseeing things.”
Festival organisers paid their own tribute to Nobs on their website last week, and vowed the festival would continue to be operated the way he wanted it.