Baltimore native John William Baxter, musician and Legg Mason worker, dies

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John William Baxter appeared briefly in the 1982 film “Diner.”

John William Baxter, a retired musician who appeared in the film “Diner” and was a Legg Mason mailroom worker, died of cancer April 29 at his Catonsville home. He was 79.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Barclay Street near 33rd Street, he was the son of Samuel I. “Bax” Baxter, an American Oil worker, and Lola Annen Baxter, a receptionist at the WMAR-television studios. He attended the now-closed SS. Philip and James School and began taking piano lessons at what is now the Peabody Institute as a child.


Mr. Baxter was awarded a music scholarship to Calvert Hall College High School and joined the school’s marching band. During high school, he began his lifelong career of entertaining and playing piano.

Mr. Baxter attended the University of Maryland, College Park before working for what is today known as Maryland’s Injured Workers’ Insurance Fund.


He later transferred to the old Maryland State Roads Commission, where he worked in the human resources department. He also worked at technology provider D&H Distributing.

Mr. Baxter served in the Army Reserves from 1964 to 1970.

He became a freelance musician and established a following among the leaders of area musical groups.

“John’s love of music was the driving force for him to leave the business world to play music full-time,” said his sister, Mary Krizansky. “He played in venues around the Baltimore area, such as the Phil-Mar Inn, the Wishing Well, Tail of the Fox and, of course, for local dances and parties.”

He played for 40 years with Abraham “Al Madman” Baitch, a well-known sax player. Mr. Baxter and Mr. Baitch played at venues on the The Block and the Embassy of France in Washington.

Along with Mr. Baitch, he appeared briefly in the 1982 film “Diner” playing the Baltimore Colts marching song on an organ.

“During shooting, [Director] Barry Levinson called out and said, ‘Get makeup on that man’s head.’ My brother was bald,” said his sister.

Mr. Baxter played at neighborhood night spots and at the old Playboy Club on Light Street, where he was a soloist. He also played the Steinway regularly at the Center Club.


“John Baxter was true gentleman. He was proper and soft-spoken. His approach to playing was magical ... and his fingers would do the work, enchantingly. He had a great repertoire,” said the club’s general manager, Kevin Bonner. “He did not use sheet music. He looked as if it were an honor to play here. He could play birthday music and special requests. He exemplified the Center Club. Our members loved him.”

Andreas Doulamatis, the club’s director of dining room services, said: “John developed a following, and people would call in, in advance, and ask if he were playing that night. He took requests and was smooth and accommodating. He often played my favorites, ‘As Times Goes By’ and ‘Summertime.’”

Mr. Baxter played keyboard with the local Flamingos band and appeared at the Paddock in Anne Arundel County.

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During his later years, he played with Don Arnold’s big band, Sentimental Journey Orchestra; Jerry Peterson’s Riverside Big Band; and the Kaleidoscope Orchestra, as well with Gene Bonner and his orchestra.

Mr. Baxter worked for investment firm Legg Mason from 1987 to 2007 as a messenger and driver.

In 2007, he began work for Stifel Nicolaus in its downtown Baltimore office. He managed the investment firm’s mailroom and delivery operations before he retired nearly a decade ago.


He donated his musical talents to retirement and senior living facilities, performing at Charlestown and Oak Crest retirement communities.

Mr. Baxter was a volunteer at food pantry Our Daily Bread and sang in the choir for funeral Masses at St. Mark’s in Catonsville.

He is survived by his wife of 21 years, Vittoria Murray, a retired Stifel Nicolaus secretary; two stepsons, Dylan Murray of Catonsville and Jeremy Murray of Sykesville; a sister, Mary Krizansky of Columbia; and three grandchildren.

A funeral Mass was held Saturday at St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Catonsville.