Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Trio transforms sports bar into jazz hall

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EVERY Saturday afternoon for the past 13 winters, the Pemby Draft House transforms from a beer-swilling, pool-playing college sports bar to an old-time jazz hall, thanks to three men who've been fixtures of the Winnipeg jazz scene for the better part of a century.

The George Reznik trio features George Reznik on keys, Bob "Moose" Jackson on bass, and Bill McMahon on drums. They have all been around since Winnipeg's heyday as a dance band town in the 1940s, and have been playing together as a trio for 25 years.

Every Saturday afternoon from September to May, they gather at the Pemby to play the classic jazz that usually brings out about 25 to 30 diehard faithful, as well as thoroughly entertaining everybody else in the house.

"It's not a young crowd, but even the young guys at the back usually come up to us after and compliment us," said Jackson.

"It's a good way to spend a Saturday afternoon," said Lee Major, the host of Cool Nights and Dinner Jazz on Cool FM radio. "I think people like them because they bring back memories of the old dance band days."

Back in those days, Reznik used to play at old Winnipeg jazz holes like the North Star, the Top of the Inn, The Stage Door, and the Rancho Don Carlos, where he once played piano for Louie Armstrong.

He also played with Barbara Streisand in 1961 at the old Town and Country.

Reznik, who trained as a classical pianist at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, is well recognized among Winnipeg jazz lovers.

"I don't think there's a person in this town who doesn't know George," said Major. "He's written some good tunes, like 30-below-zero Blues, which kind of epitomizes Winnipeg."

Jackson has been playing bass for over 50 years, and besides his gig at the Pemby, also plays with Jose Poneira at the Palm Room, and does Sunday brunch at the Fort Garry Hotel.

"You don't really choose to play music, it chooses you. I know that's an old hackneyed expression, but I'm no damn good at anything else," said Jackson.

McMahon said one of his career highlights was playing with Herb Ellis, the guitarist from Oscar Peterson's band, who did three nights with the trio at Hy's Steak Loft in 1986.

Consummate jokers, McMahon declares that the trio will play together at the Pemby "until all of us die." Jackson said they play there "because the beer is free," but they do seem to really enjoy entertaining the fans who come to see them.

"It's nothing too fancy, but it feels good and it swings," said McMahon.

Over the years, many guest players and singers have appeared at the Pemby with the trio, including Frank Burke, Paul Balcain, Reg Kelln, Rod Johnson, Janice Finlay, Brent Parkin, Michel Pere, Ron Paley, Bill Pounder, Paul Metcalfe, June Harris, Mary Nelson, and others.

PHOTO DARCY FINLEY/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 15, 2003

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