#myWeekend - Mathieu Jaton

A bloody good time

From acquaintanceship to deep friendship

Mathieu Jaton tells us how one rises from a small band room to the main stage of the Montreux Jazz Festival without making music.

Montreux – a small city on Lake Geneva – holds for Mathieu Jaton, CEO of the eponymous jazz festival, an unbelievable number of beautiful memories. They are very closely tied to the perennial summer event that has taken place since 1967: Every year the city becomes a unique meeting place for music lovers around the world. For two weeks visitors listen to the musical sounds and voices of passionate musicians. In Montreux one breathes sea air and has the feeling that the waves are still dancing to the sounds of the last festival. One strolls along the lakeside promenade past statues of famous musicians and enjoys a cappuccino at the Montreux Jazz Café. Particularly here one can revel in old memories of the festival and, thanks to the collection of Claude Nobs, somewhat trace the musical history of jazz. But not only for jazz does Montreux offer a stage, emphasises Mathieu Jaton. Many groundbreaking events in his life have run their course here. As Mathieu begins to talk, we gain an insight into a very special friendship that resembles a father-son relationship.   

As CEO, Mathieu Jaton, 45, has run the Montreux Jazz Festival since 2013. Over many years, Claude Nobs, the co-founder and director of the festival for many years, made him fall in love with the festival and eventually entrusted him with the future of the event.

The demo tape

As a 16-year old, Mathieu Jaton would probably have been flabbergasted if he had known then that Claude Nobs would one day entrust him with the direction of the world-famous Montreux Jazz Festival. Full of aspirations, back then the singer and guitarist still rehearsed with his jazz funk fusion band, the "Silk Waves", in a small band room. In the dusty cellar he and his bandmates dreamed that Claude Nobs would one day listen to their music. Mathieu’s father was a childhood friend of Claude Nobs when they were in the Boy Scouts, and now and then he told stories about the daring music lover. While Mathieu’s father repaired the cars at the first festival, the young Mathieu practiced diligently with his band and mustered the courage to call Claude. On the first try, only the assistant was on the other end of the line. After two more attempts, Claude Nobs’ voice suddenly rang out: "Hello, Mathieu. How are you?", he asked the surprised caller. And so it happened that the band was allowed to play their demo tape in Claude Nobs’ office, which today Mathieu laughingly called "Bullshit". Together they pondered music and left the office overjoyed. That was in 1992.

A few years later, Mathieu began to study at the Hotel Management School in Lausanne and worked part-time as a waiter. Early in the morning after a long festive night out, a tired Mathieu was wiping tables clean when someone tapped him on the shoulder. "Hello, Mathieu. What are you doing here?", said Claude Nobs, who, to Mathieu’s surprise, was standing right behind him. A second question immediately followed: "What are you doing tomorrow? The founders of Monty Python are visiting me and I need someone to cook with me."


"What are you doing tomorrow? The founders of Monty Python are visiting me and I need someone to cook with me."


And so the next day Mathieu stood in the kitchen of Claude Nobs’ chalet and cooked for the slapstick kings. After the guests left, the two of them sat by the swimming pool drinking whisky until 4 o’clock in the morning. Dangling his feet in the water, the curious 21-year-old Mathieu listened to the exciting stories of the three-times-older Claude.

From then on, Mathieu spent summer after summer in Claude Nobs’ chalet in Territet and looked after the musicians, who arrived from all around the world for the festival. An intensive summer job with over 1500 people in the chalet coming and going and parties at which up to 200 guests sat at the tables.

Career planning on four wheels

"My main job was driver", says Mathieu with a laugh and recalls the many hours spent chauffeuring Claude to and from Zurich Airport. The young Mathieu listened to the many personal conversations with artists and agencies as well as Claude’s remarks about articles in the daily newspaper, which had to accompany every drive. "The drives were incredibly educational for me. I had private lessons in economics, tourism and culture", says Mathieu with a grin.

It was the year before the turn of the millennium that paved the way for Mathieu’s life for the decades to come. Many of his fellow students had already signed an employment contract, but Mathieu had, as always, worked at the Montreux Jazz Festival in the summer and as a driver during the rest of the year, in the hope of being able to take part long-term at the festival. But a suitable time to ask Claude about this never presented itself. The summer was over, and Mathieu still did not have a job.

Unexpectedly, he received a phone call from Claude. The reason: The marketing and sponsoring position had just become available. Claude wanted to ask if Mathieu was interested in it. Mathieu appeared the next day at Claude’s chalet full of joy. To his surprise, he found the entire foundation board and three other candidates there. Claude had not told him anything about that. In retrospect, it was the craziest interview that he has ever had, reckons Mathieu. As all the candidates were answering the foundation board’s questions at the same time, Claude, bored, got up after half an hour and said Mathieu should help him cook in the kitchen. While the other candidates continued their interview, Mathieu cooked for everyone. The evening progressed, they ate together, but not a word was spoken about the job. A whole week later – still no answer. Then in the middle of the night a call. "That was the beginning of Claude’s nightly phone calls", says Mathieu with a laugh.


"That was the beginning of Claude’s nightly phone calls"


Then in the middle of the night a call. "That was the beginning of Claude’s nightly phone calls", says Mathieu with a laugh. Years later the two worked closely together, and these phone calls were an integral part of that. Regardless of the time of day, Claude always called when he had new ideas in order to discuss them with Mathieu right away. The first of these many nighttime phone calls was an invitation to a meeting at the tennis court in Territet, where the entire office with 50 people had gathered. Since Mathieu had thus far almost only worked in the chalet, in the office he was only known as Claude Nobs’ driver. Claude ordering Mathieu to drive him to the airport after the meal in front of all those present clearly accentuated this image. But to everyone’s surprise, "The driver will be the new director of marketing and sponsoring" was announced. And his contract and salary were not discussed on the subsequent drive to Zurich. That Mathieu was first paid half a year later is another story.

That Mathieu also has secretarial skills became apparent two years later. Claude tasked him with recording a meeting of the foundation board because the secretary was out. So he sat together with the entire foundation board and typed word for word. The topic of the discussion: the future of the festival. After Mathieu had left the meeting room for 10 minutes upon request of the foundation's president, he once again took the minutes of the meeting and wrote: "On the recommendation of Claude Nobs, today we have come to the decision that the position of general secretary will be given to Mathieu Jaton ...". After a moment Mathieu realised what he had just entered into the minutes.


"I am 65 years old and it is time to think about the future of the festival. And I would like to do this with you"


On the drive back in the car, this was discussed for the first and the last time. During the brief conversation that lasted no longer than half a minute, Claude said: "I am 65 years old and it is time to think about the future of the festival. And I would like to do this with you". From then on, Mathieu assumed responsibility for the operational management of the festival in close exchange with Claude. The two gentlemen collaborated for over 15 years, during which they directed the festival together.

Pass on DNA

The DNA of the Montreux Jazz Festival is special. It impressed Mathieu right from the beginning and thoroughly affected the core of his passion. The profound hospitality with which Claude engaged in networking remains unrivalled. The festival, with its idyllic location, the prominent artists and the luxury, as Mathieu vividly describes it, are only the tip of the iceberg. Significant is that which lies below: the spirit, characterised by a deep passion for music, and a close relationship with all the partners. That is also the reason why he loves his job so much.

The unbiased way, Claude interacted with his fellow human beings had always impressed Mathieu. Regardless of who was sitting at the table in the chalet, be it an employee or a famous artist, the same cheese and wine were always served. And Claude animatedly told his stories with the same passion. With a smile on his face, Mathieu says: "Claude was the best storyteller I have ever met. His stories were the best".

Two management styles – one goal

The two men have shared a lot, but above all: the passion for their visions and the desire to live authentically. "Nothing is impossible" – that was Claude’s nickname, who with his voice and variety of ideas always stood out. Mathieu remained rather calm and in the role of the observer. Every day the two of them talked with each other about their ideas, even in the middle of the night. "I miss those phone calls", says Mathieu thoughtfully. Nowadays he shares his ideas with his whole team and thereby consciously chooses a new way of working together. The words that Claude directed at Mathieu shortly before his death always bolster him: "I am sure you will make things happen that I was unable to accomplish."


"I am sure you will make things happen that I was unable to accomplish."


Claude’s death was a decisive point in Mathieu’s life. For years they complemented each other as partners, and now this counterpart is gone. What’s more, the changing music industry requires Mathieu to break new ground. In this challenging job he is grateful for friends and family who give him emotional support. Their honest and direct feedback is irreplaceable and shows him the way forward.

Nowadays Mathieu directs the manifold tasks of the Montreux Jazz Festival and the partner companies with a bigger team, whose members are responsible for different departments. Even though the times have changed, Mathieu continues to abide by one of Claude’s rules: Never arrange two meetings on the same day, because only thus can things run their course. Mathieu thinks back on the "bloody good times"  that he always had with Claude in order to take care of their partnerships. The friendship with Hertz is characterised by this spirit as well. Whether it be the setup of the festival with the vans or the chauffeuring of the international guests – in the mobility sector, vehicle rental makes its contribution to the festival so that artists and guests experience an unforgettable time at Lake Geneva. There should always be time to live hospitality. So, with this very spirit and a great team, Mathieu is leading the festival into the future.

Music for life

In the words of Mathieu, music is one of the most beautiful artistic expressions in the world – it connects. Even though the music business has changed a lot since the 80s, the passion has not been lost. If others focus on lucrative contracts or extraordinary music videos, then Mathieu is interested above all in the musician. "Sometimes I love the music, but in the tumult the artist gets lost – then the music passes me by", says Mathieu. At the Montreux Jazz Festival the newest trends are not included. It is still the artist’s passion that first and foremost should be expressed. Whether it be reggae, hip-hop, electronic or classical music, the most important thing is that the music be real. So, with his team of about 30 people, Mathieu presents a new programme every year. Mathieu especially loves the last two weeks before the festival and he enthusiastically talks about how day after day the festival area develops and he gets to welcome the first musicians. Then it is time: On the stage Mathieu introduces the artists to a roaring audience. When thereby the audience, full of joy, laughs and the musician enthusiastically leaves the stage afterwards, then he knows that he has done his job well.


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