Jim McNeely was born in Chicago, and moved to New York City in 1975. In 1978 he joined the Thad Jones/Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. He spent six years as a featured soloist with that band and its successor, Mel Lewis and the Jazz Orchestra (now The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra). 1981 saw the beginning of Jim's 4-year tenure as pianist/composer with the Stan Getz Quartet. From 1990 until 1995 he held the piano chair in the Phil Woods Quintet. At the present time, he leads his own tentet, his own trio, and he appears as soloist at concerts and festivals worldwide.
Jim's reputation as composer/arranger and conductor for large jazz bands continues to flourish, and has earned him nine Grammy nominations. In 1996 he re-joined The Vanguard Jazz Orchestra as pianist and Composer-in Residence. He is also chief conductor of the Frankfurt Radio (HR) Big Band. Other recent work includes projects with the Danish Radio Big Band (where he was chief conductor for five years), the Carnegie Hall Jazz Band, the Metropole Orchestra (Netherlands), the Swiss Jazz Orchestra, and the Stockholm Jazz Orchestra. The New York Times has called his writing "exhilarating"; DownBeat has said that his music is "eloquent enough to be profound".
Jim has appeared as sideman on numerous recordings led by major artists such as Thad Jones, Mel Lewis, Stan Getz, Bob Brookmeyer, David Liebman, Art Farmer, Robert Watson, and Phil Woods. He has numerous albums under his own name. The latest is "Up from the Skies", with the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra on the Planet Arts label ("concert jazz at its headiest"—DownBeat) .
Teaching is also an important element of Jim's work. He is currently on the faculties of both Manhattan School of Music and William Paterson University. He was Musical Director of the BMI Jazz Composers' Workshop from 1991-2015. He has appeared at numerous college jazz festivals as performer and clinician, and has been involved regularly with several summer workshops. He has also done clinics and major residencies at dozens of institutions in the U.S., Canada, Europe, China, Australia. New Zealand, and Egypt.