Claude Nobs, the music promoter who founded Switzerland’s Montreux Jazz Festival, died on Thursday at the age of 76, the New York Times reports. Nobs had fallen into a coma after a cross-country skiing accident on December 24th and never recovered.
Nobs, who was born in 1936 and originally trained as a chef, began putting together concerts in Montreux in 1964 while he was working for the town’s tourist board. One early concert featured the Rolling Stones, and Nobs claimed that he was forced to give away tickets because no one had heard of the band.
In 1967, he raised enough money to fund a three-day jazz festival, and the event soon developed the international prestige of gatherings such as Newport and Monterey, drawing top-drawer performers including Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald and Bill Evans. As the festival expanded to incorporate rock, blues and other genres, stars such as Bob Dylan, Prince and Radiohead joined the lineup. The festival now lasts for two weeks and regularly draws hundreds of thousands of fans to the small town on the banks of Lake Geneva.
Deep Purple’s song “Smoke on the Water,” includes in its lyrics a salute to one heroic act by the music promoter. The song tells the story of a fire that broke out at the Montreux Casino in 1971 during a performance by Frank Zappa. The line “Funky Claude was running in and out, pulling kids out the ground,” refers to Nobs’ role in helping audience members escape the burning casino.