The sounds of thundering trumpets, wailing woodwinds, brash brasses and plunking percussions bounce off the glass-clad wall of the modernistic shopping complex and ricochet into the narrow street jammed with spectators swaying side to side in time with the rhythm.
The musicians, perched on a 20-foot-high steel-pipe and aluminum platform, perform for an audience precariously seated on the planks of a makeshift grandstand.
Farther down the crowded street, small groups of performers provide informal entertainment. Some are musicians, others street performers of a wide variety of types and styles.
The Montreal Jazz Festival is a remarkable 10-day festival attended by about a million spectators who patronize almost 350 performances by well over 1,000 musicians. It's reputed to be the largest jazz festival staged anywhere.
But it's not only the size of the gala that's impressive. It's also the quality of talent from throughout the world, and the venues for the many and varied performances. Musical shows start at noon each of the festival days and continue unremitting until well past midnight.
Most of the Jazz Festival activities center around Place des Arts, Montreal's magnificent performing arts center, originally built for Expo 67, the 1967 world's fair, and subsequently supplemented with additional structures and facilities.
Concerts by headliners are presented in the theater and the concert hall of the complex, and free performances are delivered on the terrace, in surrounding streets and at other nearby locations.
A block-long section of the busy thoroughfare adjacent to the complex, Ste. Catherine, is blocked off to vehicular traffic during the festival. The high platform, erected in front of an entrance to Place du Complexe Desjardins, a huge shopping center-office building-hotel, features a parade of musical groups who perform throughout the day.
Street performers provide impromptu entertainment. A tall, gangly clown with a bulbous red nose puffs on balloons and deftly ties them into animal shapes, which are presented to leery kids. A six-member ensemble performs on drums -- big, medium, little, tiny drums -- with no musical accompaniment. Jugglers, on foot and bicycle, execute prodigious feats of balancing. Dixieland groups pluck on banjos and dance impromptu jigs to involve their audience.
At the far end of the street, youngsters line up for a chance at Les Quatre Bulles, a group of makeup artists who transform the young faces into weird animals and monsters and goblins. The kids leave the tables somewhat bewildered, until mothers produce pocket mirrors so they can see what has happened.
The styles of music are as diverse as the nationalities of the performers. Headliners at the Montreal Jazz Festival have included such jazz luminaries as Dave Brubeck, Cab Calloway, David Sanborn, Stephane Grappelli and others.
But the musical styles also have included calypso, be-bop, swing, zydeco and much more -- just about everything except opera and classical.
All the street entertainment and many other performances are free. Spectators squeeze into the grandstand in front of the elevated bandstand on St. Catherine or onto the garden terraces of the Place des Arts complex on a first-come basis.
Standing-room-only is available for concerts within the Jardins shopping center and in the lobby of Le Meridien Hotel, part of the Jardins complex. Performances also are held in two temporary structures, one a tent, the other an air-support covering a section of a major thoroughfare that is blocked to vehicular traffic after 6 p.m.
Concerts where admission is charged are held in the two theaters within the Place des Arts, the massive concert hall, Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier, and the smaller Theatre Maisonneuve, as well as the Spectrum de Montreal sports arena and the nearby Theatre Nouveau Monde. Some events are also held in St. John the Baptist Church and in a nearby jazz spot, Club Soda.
During the Jazz Festival, the year-round jazz clubs that line Rue St. Denis, a couple of blocks away, are jammed with patrons until the wee hours. For 10 days, the entire city of Montreal reverberates with the sounds of jazz.
This year, the Montreal Jazz Festival is scheduled to run from July 1 through 10. The Herbie Hancock Trio, Keith Jarrett, the Dave Brubeck Quartet and the African Jazz Pioneers are among the many groups and solo artists scheduled to perform.
The festival will be part of the 351st anniversary of the founding of Montreal. The city's history dates back to May 18, 1642, when a small group of French colonists established a settlement here called Ville-Marie.
The settlement grew and prospered, and in 1763, with a population of about 60,000, it was ceded to the English after France lost a war.
Interestingly, it might have become one of the original colonies of what later became the United States. Members of the American Revolutionary forces occupied Montreal for about eight months in 1775-6, seeking to convince the French settlers to join in the American revolution. Those pleas fell on deaf ears, and the invaders retreated.
The 14th Montreal Jazz Festival will be staged from July 1 to 10. Information can be obtained by writing the festival at 822 Ste. Catherine St. West; Montreal, Quebec, Canada PQ H2L 1K4, or by calling (514) 871-1881.
Prices for paid performances range from about $15 to $31, depending on the artist and location.
For information about the many and varied attractions offered by the City of Montreal and the Province of Quebec, including a free copy of the Montreal Tourist Guide, which has a comprehensive list of hotels, restaurants and information about visitor highlights, call (800) 363-7777.