Tommy James was born in Mt. Pleasant, NY to a family of non-musicians. While other kids were playing baseball, he ventured to his neighbor's apartment to play on the piano. He learned to play by ear and by mimicking his favorite performers. After high school, he studied at The Manhattan School of Music and majored in composition.
Tommy became a member of The Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1987 after being personally invited by Mercer Ellington (the son of Duke Ellington). When the band's piano player couldn't go on a tour to Europe, Tommy received the call to join the orchestra.
Mr. James has performed or recorded with numerous artists including Freddie Hubbard, Stanley Turrentine, Roy Ayers, Lionel Hampton, and Savior Glover. For The Duke Ellington Orchestra, he recorded Third Generation (2009) and Only God Can Make A Tree (1996) with Mercer Ellington. He has also served as music director for vocalists Marlena Shaw, Maureen McGovern, and Nell Carter. Mr. James has also performed with Patti LaBelle, Roberta Flack, Manu Dibango, The Stylistics and Teddy Pendergrast.
Recent theater credits include Sammy and Me with the Alliance Theater and Scandalous people at NY Fringe Festival. He also performed and was the musical director for the world tours of Classical Savion, Bringin' da Noise Bringin' da Funk, and Inprovography.
In 2010 Paul Ellington relinquished his role as the conductor of the Duke Ellington Orchestra to pursue a career in film production and cinematography. Tommy James has assumed the position as conductor and musical director of the band ever since.