This Song Was Born At Montreux, 1969

Apr 10, 2017

The summer jazz festival season is about to start. Blockbuster performances at the “Big Three” longest-running summer jazz fests still engender re-makes and recordings. These historic performances live on as benchmarks. Now, starting with the Montreux Jazz Festival — founded in 1967 — WRTI examines highlights from Montreux, Newport, and Monterey.

The 2017 Montreux Jazz Festival is from June 30th to July 15th in Montreux, Switzerland.

"They hadn't even rehearsed. But from the beginning it just felt right."

Radio script:

Meridee Duddleston: Are there tunes you return to again and again? An American anthem of restless discontent from the late 1960s found its legs — oddly enough — in Switzerland.

MUSIC: “Compared to What” from the album Swiss Movement. Recorded live at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Montreux, Switzerland, June 21, 1969.

MD: A few years after the now-renowned Montreux Jazz Festival began, something happened that still reverberates as a moment in history. It was 1969, at a casino on the shores of Lake Geneva.

Pianist Les McCann was onstage, and was pulling no punches. The driving groove that "Compared to What" fell into that night was unlikely because Les McCann’s Trio — piano, drummer and bass player — became a quintet with Eddie Harris on saxophone and Benny Bailey on trumpet. They'd never played together before. They hadn’t even rehearsed. But from the beginning it just felt right.

Richard Nixon was in the White House and opposition to the Vietnam War was about to heat up. Eugene McDaniel’s lyrics cover that, but a whole lot more. McCann belted them out in a raspy rant.

The tape that rolled and caught the audio in Montreux that day in June captured an excitement, an electricity, and an unmistakable spirit. It became the hit album: Swiss Movement. The lead track “Compared to What,” lived on, and still lives, in hundreds of jazz and pop versions.