On Dec. 19, Richie “LaBamba” Rosenberg presented an all-star “Holiday Hurrah” benefit concert at the Stone Pony in Asbury Park. And on Dec. 22, the jazz, pop and rock trumpeter Mike Spengler posted on Facebook, giving thanks all who had been supportive of him as he tried to recover from kidney failure.
“Especially sweet,” Spengler wrote, “was a text sent to me by Richard Rosenberg (LaBamba) that featured all of the musicians I would have been playing with as part of his Sunday’s Stone Pony ‘Holiday Hurrah’ waving and hootin’ ‘n hollerin’ my name. Boy did I miss being there with those guys.”
Spengler — a former member of Southside Johnny’s Asbury Jukes and Little Steven’s Disciples of Soul who also performed with the Miami Horns on Bruce Springsteen’s 1988 Tunnel of Love Tour and backed luminaries such as Eric Clapton, Diana Ross, The Isley Brothers, Gary U.S. Bonds and Michael Bolton — died on Dec. 31, according to multiple posts by his friends on Facebook.
“So very sad and painful to hear the terrible news that my Miami Horn, Disciple of Soul, Asbury Juke brother trumpet player Mike Spengler has passed,” wrote Eddie Manion on Facebook. “Through it all Mike had a deep love for music that was honest and sincere. He was an inspiration to all who knew him through his love and respect for the horn. A true musician.”
“Some people change your life profoundly,” wrote Mark Pender on Facebook. “For me, Mike Spengler … is at the very top of my list. Mike brought me into the horn section of @asburyjukes at a time that I was struggling to find my way in the NY area. He set me on a path unknown to a journey that would exceed all my expectations. We lost my horn brother trumpet guru this morning. His love and influence can only live on forever. This one really hurts to the core.”
“Wow. Love and deepest condolences to his family,” wrote Steven Van Zandt on Twitter. “Is Mike the first Disciple we’ve lost?”
Major concerts that Spengler performed at included Ross’ Central Park concert of 1983; Springsteen and the E Street Band’s back-to-back 1988 concerts in East Berlin and West Berlin (before the fall of the Berlin Wall); and a 1998 White House gala, celebrating the 30th anniversary of the Special Olympics, at which he played with Clapton, Sheryl Crow and others.
According to his Profile Page on the Montclair Music Studio website, he learned trumpet at the age of 9 and considered Miles Davis, the Cannonball Adderley Quintet, Hugh Masekela and classical conductor Jascha Horenstein among his early influences.
Spengler — who was raised in Englewood and attended Syracuse University —was active in Diane Moser’s Montclair-based Composers Big Band for many years, gave music lessons at the Montclair Music Studio, and played in Montclair resident Wallace Roney’s jazz orchestra.
After Moser died last year, Spengler wrote on Facebook that “To say that she was a close friend doesn’t begin to describe it. Musically, spiritually and professionally I owe her damn near everything.”
He later wrote more about her, saying “The drive within me to keep practicing, keep listening, and keep growing in this time of gig-less Covid Era is largely due to her. The growth I experienced from my 23 years with her and the amazing musicians in her Composers’ Big Band has led me not so much to ‘have faith in myself,’ but perhaps more importantly to TRUST myself.”
In a 2018 interview, Spengler said the advice he would give young musicians, particularly trumpeters, is: “Be as flexible as possible, because you never know what will come up. Be committed to your instrument and what you do. Diana Ross’ drummer Mel Brown used to say, ‘Play as though your next gig is in the audience.’ And he was right.”
Here are some videos of Spengler:
In this remarkable clip from the Tunnel of Love tour, he is second from right in the five-piece horn section (fast forward to the 4:25 mark to see them sing and dance).
Here he is playing with the Dalton Gang at the New Jersey Botanical Garden in Ringwood.
And here he is, at that White House show.
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