My Decision to Leave the Hartford Jazz Orchestra

Saying Goodbye to a Musical Family


After a yearlong association with the Hartford Jazz Orchestra – composing, arranging and performing –  leaving was a tough decision, fraught with mixed emotions.

When I joined the group in April 2022, I was thrilled to have the opportunity to write music for a professional big band. I set the lofty goal of creating a distinctive sound for the ensemble, crafting a new musical repertoire shaped by their individual strengths and feedback. The band seemed to have all the essential ingredients for success, such as talented musicians, a storied history, enthusiastic fans, and a weekly gig. In my estimation, they were primed to reach the next level and “make a mark” beyond just Hartford.

I got right to work with this aim in mind. Along with arranging music, I found them a new home venue, negotiated a weekly honorarium, hired a graphic artist to create a band logo, wrote the text for their website, secured guest performers, and carefully curated their social media accounts to project a progressive image. I did a lot.

This image is the logo for The Hartford Jazz Orchestra. It includes the band's name and an artistic design of the letters HJO.

The Hartford Jazz Orchestra’s logo, designed by Lukas Frei of Cirquid Music.

While successful, I perceived that these efforts were hampered by the band’s unwavering devotion to playing the music of their former leader, Chic Cicchetti (1918 – 2000). From my perspective, some of the old charts are palatable, but many sound dated and reminiscent of Les Brown and His Band of Renown. I was downright embarrassed by the occasional inclusion of Dixieland arrangements within our sets. While I recognized the importance of honoring the band’s past, I believe that playing more than a few oldies per night hindered the band’s progress and my own efforts towards it.

Although generally receptive to playing my music, the band continued to prioritize Cicchetti’s music. The stylistic contrast between the old and new pieces was uncomfortably stark. Sammy Nestico charts established  middle ground, but as the saying goes, “been there, done that.” Ultimately, I had to accept that our visions for the future of the band did not align. I had moved the needle as far as possible. Rather than continuing to spin my wheels, I saw the necessity to pull out.


Even though it was my decision, leaving was a very emotional and challenging one. I didn’t want to let go of my dreams, but I had to honor my unwavering inner sense that staying in a situation that wasn’t right for me would only stifle my creativity and take a toll on my spirit and well-being. I had to put an end to the frustrations building up within me.

Despite the complex emotions surrounding my departure, I will miss making music with the band each week. My HJO rhythm section colleagues are particularly dear to me because of their unwavering dedication to making every piece they play the best it can be, regardless of its composer or style.

While I don’t completely dismiss the idea of coming back in the future, it’s not something that I foresee happening anytime soon. Before I consider it, there must be a progressive vision outlined and embraced, along with improvements made to the way leadership and communication are handled. I’m not getting my hopes up, as I understand how challenging it can be for well-established organizations to transform.

I grieve for what we could have accomplished together, but clinging to a plan that faces considerable opposition would be unproductive. If they are happy honoring the legacy of their former leader each week in a local bar, so be it. I acknowledge it is time to let go and redirect my efforts elsewhere.

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