Niosi, Bert

Bert (Bartolo) Niosi. Bandleader, clarinetist, saxophonist, composer, arranger, b London, Ont, 10 Feb 1909, d Mississauga, Ont, 3 Aug 1987. He began studying flute and saxophone at nine with Pasquale Venuta in London, Ont, and for a time in his teens played with Guy Lombardo and His Royal Canadians in Cleveland. He then toured on the Loew's vaudeville circuit with his own band, the McPhillips Buescher Boys' Orchestra, which included his brother Joe (bassist, b London, Ont, 26 May 1906, d Toronto 14 May 1977), Tony Briglia (drummer, later a founding member of the Casa Loma Orchestra), and Hugo D'Ippolito (pianist, later a member of the Royal Canadians).

In 1931 Niosi formed a nine-piece band to play at the Embassy Club in Toronto. In 1932 he expanded the band and moved to the Palais Royale dance hall where, in an 18-year residence, he became an institution in Canadian pop music and was known as 'Canada's King of Swing'. The band was heard nationally on CBC broadcasts and toured Canada in 1945 and 1946. It included Niosi's brother Johnnie (drummer, b London, Ont, 26 Sep 1914, d Toronto 21 Nov 1965).

Niosi next embarked on a career with the CBC, first as a member 1952-9 of the Happy Gang, and then as music director of the TV series 'Four for the Show,' 'Cross-Canada Hit Parade,' and, 1965-76, 'The Tommy Hunter Show'. He continued to lead a dance band on occasion and returned to the Palais Royale for appearances as late as 1979.

A versatile musician, Niosi was proficient on trumpet and trombone as well as with his accustomed alto saxophone and clarinet; accompanied by his brothers he played all four instruments on a CBC TV show ca 1957. On an earlier occasion (1950) he played Mozart's Clarinet Quintet with the Solway String Quartet for CBC radio. On Niosi's death, Peter Goddard wrote. 'He was likely listened to by more people who had more different interests than any other musician we have ever produced'.

Niosi's recordings included several 78s from the 1940s with a jazz sextet for RCA Victor and Musicana, and one with his orchestra for Zephyr. He also made an LP as leader of the Jack Kane Band (1963, CTL CTLS-5036) and others as a soloist with the Albert Pratz Orchestra (RCI 173 and 174) and with the Johnny Burt Strings (1964, CTL CTLS-5044). His compositions have been recorded by Lucio Agostini and by the pianist Alexander 'Ragtime' Read.

Johnnie Niosi played with an RCAF band in Ottawa after he left his brother's orchestra in 1942. Joe Niosi played bass in the 1930s with Luigi Romanelli, Horace Lapp, and Trump Davidson (touring in Britain with the latter's band under Ray Noble) and was a member of the Happy Gang 1945-59 and of CBC orchestras under Cliff McKay, Chicho Valle, and others.