He began his musical journey playing drums at five years old. His father, Dr. James Johnson Jr., a nationally known pianist and educator sparked his passion for music. Precursory to his worldwide career, he attended Pittsburgh’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts (CAPA), where he was mentored by jazz great Roger Humphries. This laid the foundation for a stellar career that has included performing as a regular member with legendary jazz pianist Ahmad Jamal. His musical adventures have led him to play in prestigious venues worldwide, such as North America, Europe, Africa, and Japan. As a part of his portfolio, he has performed with jazz masters George Coleman, James Moody, Geri Allen, Bob James, Kenny Garrett, Benny Golson, Mulgrew Miller, Bob Mintzer, and Kenny Werner.
James serves as Artist in Residence at The University of Pittsburgh School of Music. He is on faculty at the Afro American Music Institute—a Pittsburgh institution that preserves the heritage of African American music. James maintains a diverse freelance career as a versatile percussionist, composer, and producer. Currently, he has two solo projects: Between and Full Circle.