MONTREUX, Switzerland (Reuters Life!) - The small-scale but often exclusive concerts at the Montreux Jazz Festival, now in its 44th year, continue to be packed even as shows in massive venues are feeling the economic pain.
Listeners are still paying top-dollar for tickets to hear big names play in the festival’s intimate halls, which boast exceptional sound quality and are set in idyllic surroundings on the shores of Lake Geneva with views across to the Alps.
The 16-day Swiss event ends on Saturday with a concert by filmmaker Roman Polanski’s wife, the French actress and singer Emmanuelle Seigner, who opens for Katie Melua, after hosting a diverse range of artists from rock, jazz and world music.
Seigner’s appearance is likely to attract heightened media attention as the Oscar-winning Polanski has not been sighted since authorities released him from house arrest at his chalet in the Swiss ski resort of Gstaad on July 12.
Polanski, 76, was held for 10 months while Swiss authorities decided whether to extradite him to face sentencing in the United States for having sex with a 13-year-old girl in 1977.
As well as major headlining acts like Phil Collins, Roxy Music, Norah Jones and Keith Jarrett, the festival’s highlights included special events that gave audiences a chance to see famous artists play together on the same stage.
On July 9, Benin’s Angelique Kidjo led one such event, an all-star tribute to her idol, Miriam Makeba, who died in late 2008. Makeba, known affectionately to fans as “Mama Africa,” spent three decades exiled from her homeland, South Africa, after becoming a prominent voice against apartheid.
“She was a mother to all besides being Miriam Makeba and she would share things with you,” Faith Kekana, a singer who worked closely with Makeba, told Reuters, adding that the South African star would often cook for musicians at her home instead of rehearsing as planned. “She was humble.”
Tour dates and festivals like Montreux are growing in importance for artists as the music industry struggles to combat Internet piracy, which is hitting recorded music sales.
“I think really record sales around the world are really affected, but at the same time live music is coming back,” said Senegalese superstar Youssou N‘Dour, who followed up the Makeba tribute with a two-hour set of reggae and racing mbalax numbers that had the audience dancing from start to finish.
“People go to see bands. We have to think about how to connect selling records to the live things,” N‘Dour, who owns his own record label, told Reuters. “The number of people actually going to the store and buying music is getting less and less and less. The place where you can sell records is during the concert.”
Record labels need a “new vision” of how to market music, taking in concerts, mobile downloads and merchandising in order to survive, N‘Dour said: “Selling music is not the only way to recover (investment). You have to adapt.”
Baaba Maal, another Senegalese star who paid tribute to Makeba, said the music industry needed to educate listeners about the difficulty of funding projects, so they become keener to pay for the music they consume.
“This is how it used to be, especially in Africa. Musicians entertained people and people took care of the musicians,” Maal told Reuters. “If musicians get nothing, they can’t afford to write songs anymore.”
Although fans’ purses and bags are inspected at the festival entrance, and people are asked whether they have cameras, some manage to pirate successfully.
At Elvis Costello & the Sugarcanes on July 13, a man sat before a screen in the lobby that projected the concert, quietly but blatantly recording their new song “Jimmie Standing in the Rain” with a handheld video camera. He then used his mobile phone to send Twitter messages and take photos of the musicians.
Officially, the July 11 concert of American jazz pianist Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock and Jack DeJohnette was not recorded by camera or audio. Huge signs reminded fans that “due to artistic copyright requirements,” no cameras were permitted and festival founder Claude Nobs also warned the audience not to take pictures with phones or cameras.
Yves Bruehlmann, a Swiss man from the capital Berne, told Reuters that the top ticket price of 280 Swiss francs for the Jarrett show may have been pricey but was also priceless.
“It’s easier for gray-haired people to afford, it is expensive. But it is a night whose memory will live on.”