Luke Nelson

Luke Nelson headshot

Ensemble Coordinator: Jazz and Popular Music; Composition Faculty; Guitar

HCD Music

Hartt Community Division
F 19

Luke Nelson is a musician and arts educator, who has devoted his professional life to furthering the cause of Jazz and American Roots music. After graduating with a degree in Music Composition, Luke pursued a career in music and theater in New York City, followed by ten years in Chicago. During his five years in New York, Nelson worked with his close friend and mentor, jazz legend, Jon Hendricks. While working with jazz musicians in the field of publishing, Nelson continued composing and writing what would eventually total over one thousand songs (and counting). He also began working in professional theater, performing and music directing many productions around the U.S. Nelson has performed at New York’s Bitter End and famed Folk City venues as well. 

After moving to Chicago, Luke Nelson formed the popular crossover band, Luke and the Cool Hands. With vocalists Alice Kirwan and Mary Launder, the band recorded two albums and performed countless shows, from the first Chicago Country Music Festival to the Green Mill jazz club, to Chicago’s Symphony Center. Luke has played or recorded with many jazz musicians, including Brad Goode, Dana Hall, Jeff Newell, and the immortal Johnny Frigo. Luke has also worked with Don Stiernberg, Jim Post, Robbie Fulks, Megan McDonough, and many other folk and roots musicians. He continued acting and music directing, working at the Goodman Theatre and Second City, among many other Chicago stages. 

However, it is as a music educator that Luke Nelson has devoted most of his attention, teaching at Universities and private schools, from Chicago to his home state of Connecticut, where he continues to teach and perform jazz and roots music. He has been seen at the Bushnell, Cheney Hall and many public venues, while continuing to teach at the Hartt School of Music Community Division and in Simsbury’s public schools. 

During his time at the Hartt School, Luke Nelson has formed several ensembles and classes, including Jazz Combos for middle and high school students, the Hot Club of the Hartt School, American Roots Ensemble and Hartt Harmony, an a cappella vocal ensemble. He is an instructor of music theory along with providing private instruction on his main instruments of guitar, bass and piano. He has formed ukulele ensembles and taught banjo. Luke has also taught history courses that use jazz and American music to provide a doorway into the human experience. 

Luke Nelson holds a Master of Music Education degree from Boston University, where he was able to further develop his innovative and humanistic approach to teaching. Combining years of experience as a professional musician and composer with research and practice in the field of education, Nelson is a formidable arts educator and administrator. It is this unique combination of skills, experience, training, and enthusiasm that he brings to his work as Ensemble Coordinator of Jazz and Popular Music at The Hartt School Community Division.