Luke Nelson is best known as the founder of Chicago’s Luke and the Cool Hands, the original Cowboy Jazz band that won many awards and fans. The band was invited to perform at the first Chicago Country Music Festival, Chicago’s legendary Green Mill, and Symphony Center (the home of the Chicago Symphony). Luke and the Cool Hands was a mainstay of the Chicago music scene for over eight years, and recorded two CDs, including “That Cowboy Jazz” (Sunlight Records) with Jazz trumpet star Brad Goode. The Cool Hands CDs have received airplay around the world. They feature only a few of the one thousand songs Luke has written.
Many people know Luke through his many performances around the country in stage productions such as Always… Patsy Cline, Song Of Singapore, Bye Bye Birdie, The Taffetas, Little Shop Of Horrors and a world premiere American-West version of Shakespeare’s As You Like It at the Goodman Theatre, not to mention many, many productions of Pump Boys And Dinettes.
Luke was the music director and accompanist for Musical! the Musical, a completely improvised, full-length musical that performed at The Royal George Theatre in Chicago.
He can be heard on the original cast recording of Jim Post’s Mark Twain And The Laughing River, playing piano, bass, guitar, banjo and accordion. Luke’s playing can also be heard on CDs by Paul Kahn, Gary Cornelius and others.
Luke has worked with many jazz greats including Don Stiernberg, Jeff Newell, Johnny Frigo and his dear friend and mentor, Jon Hendricks. His songs can be heard on CDs by Suzy Petri, The Melody Club and others.
In 2002 Luke Nelson and Eric Elias released a CD entitled My Compliments. The CD features original songs and arrangements for acoustic jazz guitar duet, in the tradition of Kress and McDonough. He has recently performed at Manchester’s Cheney Hall and The Bushnell in Hartford, Connecticut.
In 2006 Luke released A Mighty Four-Four, his first solo effort on which Luke plays all the guitars, featuring his unique arrangements of familiar hymns.
Luke has received grant support from the Greater Hartford Arts Council, while continuing to write and perform his original music. He also continues to music direct theater and play piano, bass or guitar while beginning work on his next thousand songs.