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Mathieu Jaton: It’s all about the music

Mathieu Jaton, CEO of the Montreux Jazz Festival, turned his passion for music into a full-time career. Two decades after joining the organisation as a trainee, he is now guiding the world-renowned Festival into the future. Discover his story and learn what values make Montreux’s Festival so special.

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Looking in the same direction
From the outset, the Festival has always supported young talent and it continues to regularly promote rising musicians through its new digital music platform, ‘Spotlight’. This ambition will be supported by Julius Baer, the new Global Partner of the Festival. “If you compare our DNA with Julius Baer’s values, our authenticity, our quality, our hospitality and how we both treat our clients, there are exciting synergies to exploit,” explains Mathieu. “We share the same forward-thinking values, international ambition, innovation strategy and, most importantly, the dedication to support great art and the next generation of musicians.” 

Julius Baer will also work alongside upcoming editions of the ‘Autumn of Music’ by the Montreux Jazz Artists Foundation, and hospitality opportunities will be available at the international Montreux Jazz Festivals in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and Hangzhou, China.

When dreams come true
Hired at the age of 24 as Head of Marketing and Sponsoring by Claude Nobs, the late founder of the Festival, Mathieu was appointed General Secretary within a year. After many years of working under Claude’s mentorship, he then began developing the values and the DNA of the Festival on his own, taking them to the next level.

“When Claude founded the Festival in 1967, my father was one of the friends he asked to come and help. I saw pictures of them working together and it became one of my dreams to be part of the Festival – not as a musician, but as an organiser. I first met Claude when I was 16. He asked me to run chalet receptions for the artists in the mountains during the Festival. I did that for six years when I was a student,” explains Mathieu. His involvement in the Festival hasn’t stopped since. He began working hand in hand with Claude immediately after graduating from the École hôtelière de Lausanne. “Do you know why I chose you?”, Claude once asked him: “Because I know you’ll respect the DNA of the Festival I’ve created”.

“Of course, I was very honoured and moved,” explains Mathieu. The close relationship between the pair took on a special significance when Claude suddenly passed away in 2013: “Having these words in my heart gave me an unshakeable focus. Everybody was asking about the future of the Festival. But I knew what Claude had achieved and I didn’t want to look back with nostalgia. I wanted to use the past to take the Festival forward into the future.” It was only natural that Mathieu took over and became the CEO of the Festival.

Grand Festival, great values
Given Montreux’s spectacular scenery, it’s easy to understand why one would never want to leave. It has stunning views of Lake Geneva and the majestic alps in the background dance alongside the audience. But it’s not just an astonishing set that sets the Festival apart. “Hospitality, intimacy – and the sense that nothing is impossible!”, explains Mathieu. 

The Montreux Jazz Festival is an unmissable event for the music industry despite its relatively small capacity. The Auditorium Stravinski, Montreux’s main venue, has a capacity of 4,000 people. During its 16 days, the Montreux Jazz Festival attracts around 200,000 people, whereas Coachella or Glastonbury welcome 150,000 visitors a day. “The question isn’t about how to pay the artists, but how to make them come for the experience,” adds Mathieu. “The success of a festival relies on the details. If you can keep the artists happy by getting the small details right, it often makes all the difference”. Details such as the story, the setting, the quality of the acoustics, the intimate venues, and the lack of curfews. Artists also have the liberty to perform for hours on end, if they wish.

DNA versus passion
As always, Mathieu’s eyes are fixed resolutely on the future. “The music business moves so quickly – but innovation is embedded in our DNA. We began using HD television 25 years before it was available in Switzerland, and we continue to use new technologies to take the Festival into the future.” But isn’t there a danger that the Festival loses touch with what made it so special? Mathieu explains: “The major challenge for the Montreux Jazz Festival is to stay true to our original strategy. We could do a lot of things but we’ve decided that our biggest asset is our history, our brand, our content, and our audience. So, we should build on these elements to develop the brand as far as we can.”

One of the things the artists who come to Montreux most love is that they can relax and enjoy the experience. They can play whatever songs they like, rather than sticking to a specific album, and are given the freedom to express themselves in unique ways. Everything is designed to deliver a very special adventure. “For young artists who come to Montreux, it’s a fantastic opportunity to play on the same stage graced by legends such as David Bowie or Prince. It’s an honour that definitely takes their career to a new level”.

People occasionally ask Mathieu what he’d be doing if he didn’t work for the Montreux Jazz Festival: “I hate this question because I don’t have an answer. When I finished my studies, I dreamt of working for the Festival. And then it happened! After my first day, I dreamt of working on the next day, and then I dreamt about the next week, the next month, the next year – and that led to another week, another month and another year! Twenty-five years later, I’m still here. The only thing I will say is that this Festival needs passion. And if one day I lose that passion, I hope I’ll be strong enough to leave because it deserves people who are really passionate about it.”

This combination of value and passion is precisely what makes the Festival so special and what Mathieu Jaton and his team have succeeded in delivering so beautifully since he heard the inspiring words of Claude Nobs all those years ago.

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