Trumpeter Mike Spengler: ‘Wide-Ranging Tastes, from Salsa to Mahler’

December 23, 2021

Mike Spengler died December 31, 2021, at the age of 69. A well-known local jazz trumpeter, he also performed with Bruce Springsteen, Diana Ross, and Southside Johnny and the Asbury Jukes. Tenor saxophonist Mike Kaplan and pianist Nat Adderley, Jr. have written personal tributes.

I first met Mike Spengler when he popped his head into Wallace’s (a hole in the wall bar/liquor store with an audience capacity of less than 50 people in Orange, NJ) one night in either 1987 or ‘88. My nonet was slated to play there that night and seven of the nine members of the band had their axes out, ready to play. I had just received a call from one of our two trumpeters (they were commuting in a car together from Brooklyn) that they were lost somewhere around New Brunswick. We were supposed to start in about 10 minutes, and I said to the band, “Any ideas?”

At that very moment, Mike pops into the place to pick up a six-pack, and our bari saxist Tom Hamilton says “Grab that guy! He plays great trumpet!” Tom gave the two of us the Readers Digest Condensed version intro and said, “We’re looking for a trumpet for tonight, are you available?”. Without hesitating a beat, Mike said “Yes”. The only question he asked was, “Do I need my flugel?” Mike immediately took his six-pack home (back then he lived about five minutes away from the bar), exchanged it for his trumpet and flugelhorn, came back in time to make the down beat and did a great job.

I got to know Mike well over the years. He subbed many times with the nonet and another band I co-led, and his playing never disappointed. He had wide-ranging musical tastes from salsa to Mahler, and he shared and turned me on to a lot of great recordings I wouldn’t have known about otherwise. I also had the pleasure of hearing Mike’s lead trumpet playing many times with Diane Moser’s Composers Big Band, hanging with him on breaks and sometimes afterwards. He always brought professionalism, loads of positive spirit, versatility, unflagging good cheer, and his strong chops to the bandstand. Mike had a strong sense of civic and political engagement and volunteered at the polls every election. I will miss all that and much more, including his plunger solos and Local 802 stories. –MIKE KAPLAN

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I have wonderful memories of Mike Spengler from half a century ago. He was a beautiful player and a beautiful human being. We started playing together around 1970. The band was called “The Soul Commuters”. We all lived in Teaneck or Englewood. At 14 or 15, I was two to four years younger than everyone, so my mom only let me go on gigs with them because Mike (and Clarence Banks and Frank Prescod) promised to look out for me).

We had a great time and became wonderful friends. I left Teaneck after high school and lost touch with those guys. I was SO thrilled when Mike showed up at Trumpets before the pandemic. We caught up a bit, and half a century seemed to disappear. We made big plans to get together. I am heartbroken to not get that chance. –NAT ADDERLEY, JR.


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