Montreux Jazz Festival – 2015

Montreux Jazz Festival, Switzerland – 2015

Bonjour, Buon Giorno, and Guten Tag…that’s all I can say. Montreux speaks all three languages and they come from all three of those different countries. Germany, Italy, and France have nearby cities with people who dearly love this festival. I say it every time and I’ll say it again. The ride into town out of the Alps down to Lake Geneva is breath taking. In many places you’re looking 30 miles across the lake at mountains in the distance that must be 100 miles away and then, in either direction, even farther (because Lake Geneva is a long one). You watch all of this unfold as you settle down to lake level for 45 min. Amazing. This has been happening to yours truly, a kid from Milwaukee, for 39 years…a kid from Milwaukee!

So many people who became life long friends of my music heard me and Tom Canning as a duo in 1976. We were supposed to rehearse and play with a really well known band, but one of their principles got sick and it didn’t happen, even though it had been announced. The longtime producer of the festival (and my dear friend) Claude Nobs, loved to tell that story every time he introduced me on stage over the years. Of course the concluding remark was that Al and Tom went on as a duo and killed. Me and my cabaca thumpin’ on the mic stand base with my foot making a bass drum sound and doing what we had done (actually for 3 years before this occasion—at the Blah Blah Café in San Fernando Valley over the hills in Hollywood) getting into a high level of performing. It worked! This audience has grown steadily and so has my band and performances over the years, and here we go again.

In the last few years, I’ve been honored to serve on the jury of the festival’s vocalist competitions, and this year I was the president of that panel. Wow! And I was blown away by the competition. My band director and arranger and music producer, Joe Turano, joined me on the panel. God, I love Joe. He’s so smart, such an accomplished musician (keyboards and 3 saxophones), sings his ass off, and knows the also important history, Jazz and other. We had a ball. We heard ten semi-finalists on Wednesday and selected 3 finalists who sing again on Thursday for first, second, and third prizes. Then later that evening the band and I performed in the new Montreux Jazz Club in Stravinsky Hall.

We had a great night on stage with a fabulous audience that cheered us on and stood up calling for encores. And we all were thrilled about coming to Montreux again. This is a mecca! But right now I can tell you I’m having a difficult time saying that all of the above might have topped by the vocal competition. During 13 individual performances over two days my waning faith in the jazz singing vernacular got a serious boost in being restored. I was amazed at this group of young people (mostly in their 20s) from all over the world who had developed a serious love for this “jazzy” way of singing. There were so many of them with the tools and abilities and interests to become world-class performers. I’ve been judging singing competitions for years and have never seen anything this great. In the end, first prize went to Alina Engibaryan from Russia, second prize went to Vuyo Sotashe from South Africa, and third prize wen to Yumi Ito from America.

Of course and to my delight the band continues to rise to the occasion and perform our new program exquisitely and with joy and enthusiasm. They have had to deal with a new lead singer, almost. Since the surgery in October I myself have had to deal with a new singer. But I’m finding me and I’m okay with it. So it was a great day for me and the band on stage

Last year’s winner of the vocal competition, Alita Moses, opened for us and then walked on and surprised everyone by singing “Summertime” with me. What a great pick and what a great singer! She is fashion model gorgeous, and she sings with a wonderful across-the-board understanding of where jazz meets R&B and pop and sings Brazilian music with the best of us. She’s got it!

I spoke for a moment about the competition. I don’t want to go on and on, but I fell in love with our panel of judges. Along with Joe Turano were Carine Zuber, Joe Farmer, and Wendy Oxenhorn (I sang the ever popular “Wendy” to her). Before it was all over we felt like family. I never witnessed such caring, compassion, and concern for this group of singers. At some point or another they all ended up with tears in their eyes. It was amazing and I hope we can do it again next year!

If I left anything out, please excuse me. It’s time to drive to Antibes in the Côte d’Azur. We’re on stage at 8:30pm the next day after a 9-hour bus ride. See you there!



Share : facebooktwittergoogle plus

Leave us a comment

Comments are closed.