By Stephanie Nebehay
MONTREUX, Switzerland (Reuters) - The Montreux Jazz Festival kicked off its 50th birthday edition on Thursday night, marking its half-century with a nod to its origins.
Charles Lloyd, an American saxophonist who performed at the first edition in 1967, opened the celebrations at the Montreux Casino with his New Quartet -- accompanied by Jason Moran on piano, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums.
"It's a beautiful thing, 50 years .... It was just a village when I came here. I was a little boy then," the 78-year-old Lloyd from Memphis, Tennessee, quipped at the end of the nearly 90-minute set during which he played tenor sax and the flute.
Jamaican Monty Alexander followed on stage with a tribute to his best-selling Live! album, which was recorded at Montreux in 1976. "Forty years ago I was playing piano in this casino .... I'm very happy to be playing for you tonight," he said.
Miles Davis, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, Prince and Deep Purple have given legendary concerts at the event, which former co-director Quincy Jones calls the "Rolls-Royce" of festivals.
"It's with emotion and pleasure that I welcome you to the Montreux Jazz Festival writing its 50th year of history. It was a dream to open the festival with the first artist to grace the stage, of course Charles Lloyd," said Mathieu Jaton, director.
He has been at the helm of the festival since the 2013 death of founder Claude Nobs, who organized the first three-day event while working at the Montreux tourism office.
Transgender singer Anohni, formerly lead singer of Antony and the Johnsons, is booked for Friday with a show billed as "Hopelessness", the title track of her first solo album.
Quincy Jones, now in his sixth decade of a career as a musician, composer and producer, has put together a show for July 8 starring Mick Hucknall's Simply Red and surprise guests.
Lisa Simone, daughter of Nina, takes to the same stage as her late mother on July 9, opening for Jamie Cullum.
"Brazilian Dream", set for July 10, features artists Ana Carolina, Elba Ramalho, Hamilton de Holanda and Maria Rita. Angelique Kidjo leads five African women in the opener.
Patti Smith (July 6), Neil Young (July 12), and Lana Del Rey (July 13), are other highlights of the festival which closes with Dweezil Zappa teaming up with Deep Purple.
The budget for the two-week festival, whose auditoriums and outdoor venues along Lake Geneva draw nearly 250,000 people, is 28 million Swiss francs ($28.70 million).
Its video library is "the largest testimony of live music recorded on the same stage, for the past 49 years" and has been recognized by UNESCO as part of the world's heritage. Nearly 10,000 recording tapes from its archives have been digitalized.
($1 = 0.9757 Swiss francs)
(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Catherine Evans)