The Festival International de Jazz de Montréal (Montreal International Jazz Festival), which celebrated its twentieth anniversary in 1999, has become one of the most popular music festivals in the world, attracting in just twelve days more than a million and a half people. Most visitors are Canadians and Americans, but Europeans are attending in greater numbers each year.
The first Festival, held in the summer of 1979, lasted less than a week. Since then, it has progressively expanded and has moved from one site to another several times to accommodate the growing number of visitors. At its current site in downtown Montreal, in the neighbourhood of the Place des Arts, it now lasts a full twelve days. In 1998, thirty-six concert series and two film series were offered for a total of 411 events. Of these, 103 were paying concerts, and 298 were free concerts held for the most part out of doors. Jazz presented in more than twelve bars all over the city also forms part of the event.
From noon to 6 pm, a free outdoor concert is held every hour. From 6 pm to midnight, two more free concerts are performed simultaneously. During the day, street bands give strollers a taste of a wide range of musical styles. For more than twelve hours the public can hear music nonstop by moving from one venue to the other. The downtown site is big enough to avoid the overlapping of music from simultaneous performances. At the end of the afternoon and in the evening, Festival-goers can enjoy the indoor paying concerts.