At three years of age, Jimmy loved to listen to Jazz. As he tells it, “I’d choose a 78 from my father’s Jazz collection and play it on the Victrola.
A particular favorite of mine was a picture record of Charlie Shavers performing “She’s Funny That Way” on one side and “Dizzy’s Dilemma” on the other side. Or I’d choose Duke Ellington’s “Stompy Jones” or “Tulip or Turnip.” Then my father would scoop me up in his arms and we’d dance! The best part, though, was seeing the reflection of me dancing with my daddy in the living room mirror. It was a great feeling.”
At fifteen, Donald Byrd, his mentor, arranged for Jimmy to audition for a place in the Newport Youth Band. The band was sponsored by the Newport Jazz Festival that was founded by George Wein, and its musical director was Marshall Brown, one of the first Jazz educators in America. Being invited to join the band was an important step in Jimmy’s musical development. He not only learned how to interpret and read music, it gave him an opportunity to perform music composed by many of the top Jazz arrangers. Other members of the band at this time were bassist Eddie Gomez, pianist Mike Abene, baritone saxophonist Ronnie Cuber and drummer and GRP Record Company founder Larry Rosen.
By the age of twenty-five, Jimmy had been a sideman with Lionel Hampton, Hank Crawford, Charles Mingus, Herbie Mann and Duke Ellington. As Jimmy continued to expand his musical horizons, he participated in different performing experiences, such as television, studio work and orchestral work. Between 1969 and 1972, he worked on the David Frost TV Show with Billy Taylor, the musical director. Also in 1969, he increased his European performances and education workshops throughout the world.
However, Jimmy was restless�"he wanted to start passing along what he had learned. Donald Byrd had instilled in him the importance of understanding the concepts of education and having knowledge of the business of music. Jimmy wanted to incorporate these concepts, together with his own musical experience and knowledge, to teach students how to become successful musicians. As he tells it, “it’s not only about playing music, it’s about knowing how to market oneself for performances and how to put together a group that is able to communicate with the audience. It all adds up to one’s total musicianship, and there’s a lot of work behind that.”