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Montreux Jazz Festival last year (Marc Ducrest)
Let's be honest. There's the Montreux Jazz Festival, and then there's everybody else. Sure, New York's got epic jazz courtesy of Wynton Marsalis' tony Lincoln Center set up and the indispensable Winter Jazzfest. Not to mention all those Village joints like the Vanguard, where Coltrane, Mingus and Monk once raised the roof. But for live licks that become the stuff of legend, served up in one of swankiest spots on the planet, nothing can beat Switzerland's fabled MJF.
A Star Is Born
Founded in 1967 by beloved impresario Claude Nobs, the Montreux Jazz Festival's stomping grounds are the uber-exclusive shores of Lake Geneva. Back in the early days it lasted 72 hours and featured jazz artists like Nina Simone, Miles Davis and Ella Fitzgerald almost exclusively. In the '70s the festival expanded both in length and to include performers from other genres, but jazz remains at its heart, with the form's best and brightest taking the stage for the closing night show.
No Facelift Required
Closing in on 50, the festival sure looks good for its age. Now held in the Montreux Music and Convention Center, it draws 250,000 attendees annually. Acclaimed musicians continue to flock to the MJF; more recent acts have included Prince, B.B. King, Muse, Bob Dylan and Radiohead. And this year's slate of shows, which runs July 3-18, ain't bad either, with Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, John Legend, The Chemical Brothers, Santana, George Benson and more on the bill.
How To Go Montreux
Wanna cross the Montreux Jazz Festival off your bucket list? Get your tickets. Now. Even with big prices, big shows sell out fast. Single seats are already gone for Bennett and Gaga. But if you've got coin, there are always passes—about $1,600 will get you into every performance on all three stages. Just remember that there's more to the festival than the happenings at the Convention Center, like free concerts in the park, music competitions, workshops, exhibits and film screenings.
The Fairmont le Montreux Palace, which has a garden along the lakeshore (the Convention Center to the left)
To do MJF like a rock star, stay where they do: Fairmont le Montreux Palace. Located steps from the Convention Center and dipped in Belle Epoque splendor, it's also home to Funky Claude's Bar, where famous faces flock and Quincy Jones once cooked a chicken dish so superb it remains on the menu today. (For more affordable options, there are still plenty of rooms and homes on Airbnb.)
If you haven't scored an invite to one of the Palace's famed garden parties—glamorous enough you'll feel like you're at a less uptight Met gala—packages are available through the festival that include invites to other shindigs just as posh.
Chateau de Chillon (Facebook)
Be sure to leave time to take in the beauty of the Swiss Riviera. Stroll through the medieval fortress Chateau de Chillon, hop aboard a paddle steamer, or take a cogwheel train into the Alps. It'll be music to your ears.
Jill Gleeson is a travel and adventure journalist based in the Appalachians of Central Pennsylvania. Find her on Facebook and Twitter at @gopinkboots.