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We got the jazz (again)

Montreux Jazz Festival returns to Atlanta

More than any other musical idiom, jazz is recognized worldwide as quintessentially American. It is so embedded in our national musical landscape, affecting almost all American music, from songs to symphonies, that, much like the grass, it is easily overlooked as something unto itself. Judging by market share alone, one would guess that jazz has become a nearly forgotten heritage, at least in the United States, despite significant jazz festivals here.

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By stark contrast, jazz is a hot item in Europe, where after umpteen decades it remains a fascinating cultural exoticism — even if seen through European-colored glasses.

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Enter into the picture Switzerland's famous 40-year-old Montreux Jazz Festival, which takes place each July in the idyllic, picture-postcard city of Montreux, located on the eastern shore of Lake Geneva.

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The Montreux Jazz Festival had a sweet relationship with Atlanta in past years. An all-outdoor event under its banner was presented annually by the city in Piedmont Park beginning in 1986. That survived until 2002. Then Atlanta's municipal government entered a phase where it was forced to face some urgent, ugly fiscal realities, putting the local Montreux Festival not just on a back burner, but off the stove entirely.

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Instead, the city focused on its own Atlanta Jazz Festival, a late spring home-grown event with a 28-year tradition that is touted as one of the country's largest free festivals of its kind.

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But this year, thanks to the Swiss festival's new Montreux Jazz Worldwide program, in cooperation with the city of Atlanta and the Woodruff Arts Center, Atlanta's version of Montreux is back on the city's menu of music festivals, cooked up in a new recipe.

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Unlike previous incarnations, this one — with one outdoor and four indoor venues at the Woodruff Arts Center — more closely resembles its Swiss mother. It also includes films of legendary jazz greats performing at past Swiss festivals, like Charles Mingus and Miles Davis.

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Although there are Montreux Jazz Festivals in locations as far flung as Singapore and Marrakech, Atlanta's rendition is the only one in the nation taking place where jazz and the blues originated. True, arguments could have been made for locating it in a more historical jazz/blues city such as New Orleans or Memphis, but according to Montreux founder/director Claude Nobs and secretary-general Mathieu Jaton, Atlanta's past relationship with Montreux and the city's growing international reputation made it the obvious choice.

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But whether a festival that is foreign stock transplanted to native soil will thrive again in Atlanta may depends on young audiences. The city's predominantly hip-hop and rock-oriented communities would need to grasp jazz and blues as vibrant, living music of today rather than a style relegated primarily to historical preservation.

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music@creativeloafing.com

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MONTREUX JAZZ FESTIVAL IN ATLANTA

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Fri.-Sun., Sept. 2-4. Woodruff Arts Center, 1280 Peachtree St. 404-733-5000. www.woodruffcenter.org.

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Friday

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Live on the Plaza feat. Mark de Clive-Lowe, Julie Dexter, Soweto Kinch and Abram Wilson. Free. 5:30-8:30 p.m. Callaway Plaza.

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Blues in the Night feat. Hubert Sumlin, Nappy Brown and Bob Margolin. $20. 8 and 10 p.m., Rich Theatre

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Musica Caliente feat. Eddie Palmieri & La Perfecta II. $20-$25. 8:30 p.m. Alliance Theatre.

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FreeSoul Sessions Clubnite feat. Mark de Clive-Lowe and guests. Cover charge at the door. 8 p.m. Woodruff Jazz Club.

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Saturday

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Montreux Jazz on Film feat. Charles Mingus in Concert (1975), 1 p.m.; Ella Fitzgerald in Concert (1969), 2:15 p.m. Free. Rich Theatre.

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Live on the Plaza feat. TamBoricua, Jazz for Kids, Bob Miles-Eddie Davis Quintet, Takana Miyamoto, Life Force. Free. 2-7 p.m. Callaway Plaza

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The Great American Songbook feat. Bill Charlap Trio and Dick Hyman Trio. $25. 6:30 and 8:30 p.m. Rich Theatre.

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Legends of the Blues feat. Buddy Guy, Pinetop Perkins and Bob Margolin. $22-$35. 8 p.m., Symphony Hall

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FreeSoul Sessions Clubnite feat. Mark de Clive-Lowe and guests. Cover charge at the door. 8 p.m. Woodruff Jazz Club.

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Sunday

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Montreux Jazz on Film feat. Al di Meola, Jean-Luc Ponty, Stanley Clarke in Concert (1994), 1 p.m.; Miles Davis in Concert (1986), 2:15 p.m. Free. Rich Theatre.

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Live on the Plaza feat. International Groove Conspiracy, Sol Factor, King Johnson, Randall Bramblett, Kingsized. Free. 2--7 p.m. Callaway Plaza.

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Live in the Rich Theatre feat. Grant Lee Phillips. $20. 8 p.m. Rich Theatre.

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Juke Joint Revival feat. Reverend Billy, Bob Margolin and guests. $20. 8 and 10 p.m. Alliance Theatre.

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Live in Symphony Hall feat. Keith Jarrett, Gary Peacock & Jack De Johnette. $25-$55. 8 p.m. Symphony Hall.

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FreeSoul Sessions Clubnite feat. Mark de Clive-Lowe and guests. Cover charge at the door. 8 p.m. Woodruff Jazz Club.