Born in Salt Lake City, Utah, Jim began playing the clarinet at age 10, and by age 12 had started playing along with solos by Benny Goodman, Arte Shaw, and Jimmy Dorsey from his parents' record collection. By age 14 he knew he had a passion for jazz, so he borrowed his older brother's tenor sax and auditioned for his Junior High stage band, and within a year went from copying the solos of jazz greats to improvising his own. By high school, he was fully involved in music, performing in the jazz ensemble, orchestra, and choirs.
Receiving both music and academic scholarships, Jim was accepted in the University of Utah's jazz studies program, and graduated in 1986 with emphasis in jazz composition. Seeking a bigger playground than Salt Lake City, Jim moved to the Seattle area after graduation, and has been active as both a composer and performer ever since.