George Reznik

George Reznik plays piano in this undated photo. Reznik died on Saturday at the age of 86. (manitobamusicmuseum.com)

A Winnipeg legend has died.

George Reznik, a jazz pianist who played with Louis Armstrong, Barbra Streisand and a number of other stars, was 86.

According to Bill McMahon, with whom Reznik was close, the musician forgot the names of many people he met throughout the years, but always remembered their favourite tunes.

In the mid 80s, the George Reznik Trio, which included McMahon on drums, was finishing a set at Hy's Steak Loft when a couple walked in during the last song.

"We're playing an upbeat tune and [George] segued this whole thing into a waltz, a piece of music from the old time era," McMahon said.

"I said to [the bassist], 'I think we're going to need to get George some help. What the heck is going on?' So, I asked him. He said, 'Did you notice that couple walk in? Twenty seven years ago, I played at their wedding and that was their first dance.'"

The trio played a regular Saturday afternoon set at the Pembina Hotel for more than 25 years, too. 

The time McMahon spent on stage with Reznik all started one day in the early 1960s when he was alone, listening to the radio. He heard a group he thought was the Oscar Peterson Trio.

"I thought, 'Wow do I ever like that kind of music,'" he said.

Eventually, McMahon learned the band he originally heard on the radio included George Reznik and they played on Sunday nights at the Chippewa Club. Naturally, he went to watch and listen.

"I was playing pretty close attention to what they were doing and George spotted me," he said.

"He comes off the stage and he said, 'Do you play?'"

While McMahon laughs, acknowledging he was not "in the same league" as Reznik, he said he did, in fact, play drums.

"The next thing you know, he's asking me to come up and sit with these guys."

Over the next few years, McMahon filled in for the band's drummer occasionally until he earned a full-time spot on the group.

"He was a classical pianist but he had a jazz soul," McMahon said, remembering his late friend.

"My learning curve, well, it went on for 42 years for me."

Now, Reznik's perfect pitch stands out to McMahon — "He could tune a piano by ear," he said — and that although they played together roughly 3,000 times, Reznik never played a song the same way twice. 

"George had a way of playing that was infectious," he said.

A service for Reznik is scheduled to take place at 10:30 a.m. on Friday at St. John Brebeuf Roman Catholic Church.

with files from Trevor Dineen