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Claude Nobs, Founder of Montreux Jazz Festival, Dead at 76

GENEVA  — Claude Nobs, who founded the Montreux Jazz Festival nearly 50 years ago, has died after several weeks in a coma following a skiing accident, the festival announced Friday.

The Swiss impresario immortalized by rock group Deep Purple as “Funky Claude” in the song “Smoke on the Water” and who lured the biggest stars of the music world to his festival on the shores of Lake Geneva died on Thursday at the age of 76.

“He died peacefully, surrounded by family and close friends,” said a statement issued by the festival, where Mathieu Jaton assumed his duties as director earlier this week.

Nobs launched the summer festival in 1967, while working as an accountant at the Swiss resort’s tourism office. Over the years, his blend of persistence, patience and charm managed to persuade leading lights such as Miles Davis, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin and Prince to take the stage at Montreux.

But he often had to meet their whims to coax them along.

“I got Miles a Ferrari for him to drive along the lake, Nina Simone wanted a diamond watch and we found the mineral water that Prince likes in Geneva. We always find a way,” Nobs told Reuters last April during an interview at his beloved chalet.

A former festival employee told Reuters on Friday: “He was a shy man, but still managed to negotiate. That was his strength and led him to create something huge.”

Nobs fell while cross-country skiing on Christmas Eve near his chalet in Caux, overlooking Montreux, a property that he shared with his longtime partner Thierry Amsallem, who is in charge of digitalizing the festival’s archives of 5,000 hours.

Last year’s two-week festival, which attracted about 250,000 people, featured sold-out concerts by Bob Dylan, American chanteuse Lana Del Rey and British actor and musician Hugh Laurie.

A musical tribute to the people of Montreux is planned in February, in accordance with his wishes, to be followed by events in New York and London this spring, the festival board president, Francois Carrard, told Reuters.

Read more: NBC News


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