Abe Speller amplifies a sound that sticks.
The Moorestown husband, father and freelance drummer plays in his own group, the Abe Speller Jazz Trio.
“Some people just want to do one thing,” Speller said. “They want to play avant garde jazz or they want to play folk, and that’s what they do. But as a drummer, I just always wanted to touch different genres.”
Speller started performing in New York, where his passion for music came from the jazz-fusion scene. He cites artists such as Charles Earland, Lonnie Liston Smith and Sonny Sharrock for experimenting with a new sound.
“It was kind of like I equated (it) to this carrot,” Speller explained, “This carrot just kept me going, reaching, and I was lucky in that I liked to do a lot of different kinds of music.”
Speller has headlined for musicians such as Pat Benatar, Elton John, the Rolling Stones and Steve Forbert. For more than 40 years, he’s toured the U.S. and Europe, recording multiple albums.
“While I was doing these big gigs, I was doing private events and that’s what got me … kind of tied me into this jazz trio,” he noted.
Speller’s biggest creative growth spurt came when he started performing with cabaret singer Helen Schneider. She introduced him to the works of composer Stephen Sondheim, French singer Edith Piaf and the American Songbook.
After moving to Moorestown, Speller started performing in Philadelphia with three other musicians. One night, the trumpet player couldn’t make it.
“I dug that sound, upright bass,” Speller recalled. “Just that sound … I was doing a lot of stuff with electric bass previously … but when you’re playing jazz, that sound of that big instrument, that upright bass, is just so warm and beautiful.”
The Abe Speller Jazz Trio, developed in 2005, performs jazz standards written by composers such as Duke Ellington, George and Ira Gershwin, and Jerome Kern.
“I would get these gigs at restaurants that were five years, four years, eight years, so I was able to develop the music and the songs and the style,” he explained.
Inspired by Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, Speller came to appreciate experimental music and playing at different venues.
“It’s what we call ‘stretching out,’” he noted. “You can do the corporate thing but then … I like those little dark clubs, too. You know … just to mix it up a little bit.”
Speller also plays percussion.
“I was always interested in African percussion, hand drums,” he said. “Because being a drummer – the hand drums and percussion around the world, whether it’s Brazil or Africa – those cultures are very rhythm-drum oriented.”
Speller is also deeply connected to playing music with others.
“There’s a saying, ‘If you’re practicing, you’re not gigging. If you’re gigging, you’re not practicing,’” he said. “My thing was always playing with other people; that’s what I enjoy the most.”
Speller and his family appreciate the Moorestown community; his daughter is an alumna of Moorestown Friends School.
“Both my wife and I grew up in a town that wasn’t exactly like Moorestown, but there was a Main Street … It was that kind of town that we grew up in, so we were very comfortable,” he remembered.
When COVID hit, Speller collaborated with composer and guitarist John King to record an album. He has advice for musicians looking to jump start their careers.
“The first thing I would say is, ‘Just study your instrument,’” he advised. “Because that’s the start of it all. See what your influences are and then take them and go back.”
“Circle around and see what their influences were, and then study and dream,’’ Speller added. “Because I had this big dream that was able to come true.”
To listen to the Abe Speller Jazz Trio, visit www.abespellerjazztrio.com.