By Stephanie Nebehay
CAUX, Switzerland (Reuters) - Bob Dylan, Van Morrison and Anita Baker return to the Montreux Jazz Festival for the 46th edition that founder "Funky" Claude Nobs hopes will go on into the early hours with improvised jam sessions.
New talents Lana Del Rey and Ed Sheeran, as well as veterans Jane Birkin, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Tony Bennett are also booked at one of Europe's most prestigious music festivals that runs from June 29-July 14 along the shores of Lake Geneva.
Dylan performs on July 8 for the first time here since 1998, with "Chicago Blues" opening for the American legend, now 71.
"I heard Bob (Dylan) play in Geneva a few months ago and brought him some DVDs of Montreux. He was the one who said he wanted to come back to Montreux," Nobs told Reuters in his chalet in the village of Caux just above Montreux.
"He never appears with someone before him or after him but this time he is, it will be something totally different."
Van Morrison and Buddy Guy appear the night before, and Nobs hopes that the Northern Irish singer who is staying on a day longer will join Dylan in some poetic lyrics at the Stravinski Auditorium.
Other line-up highlights include Detroit-based Anita Baker and a 1970s disco evening billed as "Freak Out" featuring Nile Rodgers & Chic, Mark Ronson and Grace Jones.
"Anita Baker is in great form, she has the greatest jazz voice in the world at the moment," Nobs said, adding that he saw her perform in New York two months ago.
"House" television series actor Hugh Laurie, a blues singer whose debut album "Let Them Talk" soared on the charts, performs with Dr. John and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue on July 9.
"All three groups will be on the stage of Miles Davis Hall, it's their only concert in Europe," Nobs said.
Katie Melua, Jethro Tull, Alanis Morissette, American R&B stars Erykah Badu and D'Angelo, Brazil's Gilberto Gil, Jessie J, and Janelle Monae are also booked. Amy MacDonald kicks it off on June 29, with 20-year-old local Swiss Bastian Baker opening.
The festival's archives of 5,000 hours of music contained on 10,000 recording tapes are being digitalized to preserve 45 years of history, according to Nobs, dubbed "Funky Claude" by Deep Purple in their 1970's hit "Smoke on the Water" about a fire raging in the posh Swiss lakeside resort.
"We are in discussions with UNESCO on the archives. Personally, I'm convinced it will happen," he told reporters.
"They will be the first music archives in the world to become the cultural patrimony of UNESCO," Nobs said, adding that he expected a decision in June.
The 76-year-old Swiss, who created the festival in 1967 while working at the tourism office, brought giants from Miles Davis, Ray Charles and B.B. King to Prince to Montreux's stage.
He often had to coax them along or meet their odd whims.
"I got Miles a Ferrari for him to drive along the lake, Nina Simone wanted a diamond watch, and we found the mineral water that Prince likes in Geneva. We always find a way," he said.
Thierry Amsallem, Nobs' partner for more than 20 years, is project manager for the high-resolution digital archive which has technical help from the Ecole Polytechnique de Lausanne (EPFL) and funding from Swiss watchmaker Audemar Piguet.
"It is a unique collection in the world, live concerts at the same venue by the same organization," he told Reuters, adding that it included recordings by 4,000 groups.
"We started three years ago and have done 35 percent. But we've done the most difficult parts, the old reels which demand more care - Aretha Franklin, Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie," he said. "It should take two more years."
Their two chalets overlooking Lake Geneva are full of vintage Wurlitzer jukeboxes, flat screens, sophisticated sound equipment and mementoes including a print signed by Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones and a larger-than-life bust of Franklin.
Tickets for the Van Morrison and Dylan concerts are the festival's priciest, ranging from 108 to 350 Swiss francs ($380).
What about the steep prices in an age of free digital music?
"We're offering Bob Dylan in a hall for 2,500 people with excellent sound and visual conditions. It's something unique compared to huge indoor halls or stadiums," Nobs said.
"The most expensive tickets always go first."
$1 = 0.9145 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay, editing by Paul Casciato)