The Hartford Jazz Orchestra (HJO) began its Monday night ritual in October 1965 at King Philip Middle School in West Hartford, under the direction of Hall High School band director, Bill Stanley. The band continued under the same leadership, at the same location, until the early 1970s, when it moved to Manchester Community College. During this period, it was operated under Bob Vater, who was on the teaching staff at MCC. Briefly, the band suffered from a lack of quality musicians and spotty attendance. But the group began working with a series of new and interesting musical arrangements.
In the mid ‘70s, with Bob Vater at the helm, the band performed concerts with the Woody Herman and Stan Kenton big bands, along with joint appearances with jazz greats Zoot Sims and Clark Terry. It was about at this time that Chic Cicchetti joined the ensemble as a section trombone player. The HJO moved to Newington High School in 1979 and continued under the direction of John Mills. Due to space availability, some of the meetings were conducted at the Newington Town Hall.
The band returned to MCC for a short time, under the direction of Bill Stanley. Chic Cicchetti began to make his presence felt with his stellar musical arrangements, and eventually assumed leadership. In the early 1980s the band moved to the Rocking Horse Café which was owned by the DePalma brothers.
There were many personnel changes through all these years, with a definitive surge in the quality of musicianship with the addition of Jack Nedorostek on lead trumpet and Tony DiMaggio on lead trombone. Lead alto saxophonist Seb Giacco and trumpeter Dick Prestage were mainstays from the band’s inception.
From 1985 to 1998 the HJO enjoyed its tenure as the house band at Club 880, the mecca of the Hartford jazz scene. It was during this period that singer Bobbi Rogers joined the group. After the club owner expired and the establishment began to show signs of instability, Chic Cicchetti moved the band to the Great American Café in Glastonbury, for a short stay, and then to East Hartford’s Ramada Inn. In 1998, the HJO moved to the Arch Street Tavern where it held a two decade-long residency.
Chic Cicchetti died in May of 2000. Before his passing, he expressed the wish that his music would be under the stewardship of Dick Prestage, Jack Nedorostek, Don West and Seb Giacco. The ensemble continued to pay tribute to Chic each Monday night, under the direction of pianist Donn Trenner, who we lost in 2020.
In April 2022, the HJO began its current era, performing weekly at Elicit Brewing in Manchester, CT. While continuing to honor its past, the band is committed to moving forward artistically and pushing musical boundaries. Its members are some of the foremost jazz artists and music educators in New England. Former Maynard Ferguson musical director and pianist, Earl MacDonald succeeded Trenner, and contributes fresh, contemporary arrangements. The future looks bright! The band is making plans to record their first album.