Paul John Mangione, whose spirited piano playing with the Paul Mann Band enlivened not only numerous social events but helped Baltimoreans welcome the New Year for decades, died of complications from dementia Oct. 7 at the Veterans Affairs Rehabilitation & Extended Care Center in Northeast Baltimore. He was 91.
Mr. Mangione was born in Baltimore and raised on Allegheny Avenue in Towson. As a youngster, he worked as a stonemason for his father's construction company while teaching himself to play the piano.
"He had a perfect ear," said a daughter, Cynthia M. Teramani of Rodgers Forge.
Mr. Mangione, who was a 1935 graduate of Towson High School, formed the Paul Menton Orchestra, an 18-piece band, in 1938.
Enjoying early success, Mr. Mangione's orchestra performed in major downtown hotels as well as Keith's Roof and the Stanley Theater. Other gigs included country clubs, colleges and high school gymnasiums.
"It was one of the few local bands that received encouraging write-ups from Orchestra World Magazine," Mrs. Teramani said. The press resulted in the band's first out-of-town booking at the William Penn Hotel in Pittsburgh, followed by a stand at the Morrison Hotel in Chicago.
"World War II was quickly approaching just as the band began to take off, and it was the draft board that eventually broke it up," Mrs. Teramani said.
Mr. Mangione entered the Army in 1944 and was sent to Europe, where he was a member of the 44th Infantry Division Band, joining musicians who had played in pre-war days with bands led by Tommy Dorsey, Alvino Rey and Blue Baron,
"Home base for the division was Fort Lewis, Washington, which was part of the Northwest Defense Command. Two great dance orchestras were formed from the division band, and I was placed in charge of one of them," Mr. Mangione wrote in an unpublished biographical sketch.
In the fall of 1944, the division shipped out; after landing in Normandy, band members were absorbed into communications or worked as guards, or in reconnaissance or graves registration units.
"He told us stories about seeing soldiers killed in battle and liberating prisoners from the concentration camps and how horrific it was to see the way they had been mistreated," Mrs. Teramani said. "He said it gave him meaning to why he was there and helped him cope with the loss of friends he saw die."
Discharged with the rank of private in 1945, Mr. Mangione returned to Baltimore and rejoined Mangione Construction Co., his father's business.
Mr. Mangione returned to the music business, playing in the evenings with small combos and on the nightclub circuit. During the day, he worked in real estate, insurance and car sales, and later for a home improvement company.
Al "Madman" Baitch, who earned his nickname from playing the instrument in wild gyrations while lying on his back, had employed Mr. Mangione after the war.
"He was a piano player of note and worked for me after the war from 1947 through 1950. He played all the clubs and joints along East Baltimore Street and was a very fine gentleman, and clean-cut," Mr. Baitch said.
Even as the big-band era began to fade during the 1950s, Mr. Mangione continued playing swing as well as jazz and blues for such bands as the Midshipmen, June Evett Trio, Hi-Tones and Pier Five.
For many years, Mr. Mangione was the featured New Year's Eve entertainment at the Elkridge Club and the Baltimore and Valley country clubs.
He earned a devoted following playing at such area restaurants as the old Tail of the Fox in Timonium, as well as the Penn Hotel and Pine Ridge Inn in Towson.
Mr. Mangione later performed at the Four Corners Cabaret Theater in Jacksonville and later at the Corner Stable in Cockeysville, where he founded a new group, the Paul Mann Band, in the early 1970s.
In the early 1990s, Mr. Mangione retired from musicand had worked in recent years as a Baltimore County school crossing guard at Rodgers Forge Elementary School.
His marriage to Jeanne F. Blair ended in divorce.
A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Nov. 28 at the Mitchell-Wiedefeld Funeral Home, 6500 York Road.
Also surviving are another daughter, Suzanne M. Wight of Boulder, Colo.; and four grandchildren.