The youngest of four children, Jim McDonough was born in Monticello,
Iowa (population: 3,600). When Jim was seven years old, his mother
grew too busy to continue taking piano lessons, so Jim stepped in
to fill the spot. And he discovered a talent and love for music
that propelled him into a career as a professional musician.
But the road to success wasn't without its detours. In eighth
grade, an accident nearly ended his musical career. An upright piano
fell and crushed three fingers on his right hand -- and nearly crushed
his dreams in the process. Jim emerged from two hours of surgery
with pins in his fingers and tiny fractures across his hand. But
throughout more than a year of physical therapy, Jim kept playing
-- with a cast on his right hand -- and concentrated on improving
his performance with his left hand.
Determined to play again, he devoted nearly every spare moment
to working to get back the dexterity in his right hand. The rigorous
rehearsing paid off, and in ninth grade, instead of a car, Jim bought
a Steinway grand piano to celebrate how far he'd come.
The night before Jim left for college, a friend who dabbled in recording
asked if Jim would let him record a few songs. Jim pushed aside
his suitcases and sat at the piano, plinking out a few favorite
He didn't think of the impromptu recording session again - until
his family visited him at school with the news that his tape was
being sold all over his hometown of Monticello. Jim parlayed the
success of that first tape into a second, holiday-themed tape.
Jim graduated from Wartburg College in Iowa with a degree in Music
Education, and he took a job as band director for the senior high
school in Waukon, Iowa. After a year, he was offered a position
at a larger school in LaPorte City, Iowa, and found himself directing
two concert bands, two jazz bands, and offering private lessons.
Thrilled to be involved with music, but unimpressed with the politics
of teaching, Jim decided to pursue a non-musical career -- as long
as he could continue playing piano as a hobby. Jim's sister, an
air traffic controller, suggested he might want to look into her
profession, and Jim's interest was piqued.
After a six-month intensive training program in Eden Prairie,
Minnesota, Jim was stationed at the largest air traffic facility
in the world, the Chicago facility that controls airspace over seven
states. He had traded his piano keyboard for a computer keyboard,
monitoring the flight patterns of hundreds of planes a day. But
the high-stress world of airplane traffic wasn't filling the creative
need that gnawed at Jim. "There was something missing," he says.
Far from home -- and from his beloved Steinway -- Jim found himself
spending his off-hours lingering at piano stores, pretending to
be considering a purchase and playing as much as he could. "Music
was what defined me, and I had given it up," Jim says. "It was who
I was, and it had almost entirely vanished from my life."
In the summer of 2000, Jim was contacted about a job playing piano
on a cruise ship. He auditioned -- over the phone! -- and was offered
a two-week fill-in gig. The only catch: they needed someone immediately.
Could he be on a plane at 6:30 the next morning? He decided that
it was an opportunity he couldn't pass up, so he used his vacation
from the air traffic center to give it a try. He loved every minute
of it, and was quickly offered a full-time job on the largest cruise
ship in the world.
So, after two years as an air traffic controller, Jim decided to
dive headfirst into playing piano professionally. For more than
two years, he performed on Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines in piano
lounges, during cocktail hours, and in an 1,800-seat dining room.
"I went from the most stressful job in the world -- literally --
to the least stressful job in the world," he says.
On break from the cruise line, Jim recorded his first CD, Requests,
which he sold to passengers when he returned to the ship. Dry land
eventually beckoned, and in 2002, he moved back to Monticello to
concentrate on producing and distributing his music. In Fall 2003,
he released his second album, a collection of holiday favorites
Since then, Jim has produced fourteen more CDs, including:
- His early-2004 collection of movie music, Projections:
Songs from the Silver Screen;
- An Ivory Christmas (retired), a taste of Jim's live holiday show that
features a combination of solo piano pieces and holiday tunes
with vocals and full orchestrations;
of the Night, a collection of sophisticated, relaxing
and romantic evening-inspired melodies;
Gifts, featuring 14 songs of faith and inspiration;
Love, timeless, most-often-requested love songs;
Bound, melodies designed to accompany us on the many
stages of our journeys through life;
Dreaming, featuring 16 classic country melodies;
- New in 2008, A
Christmas to Remember, filled with holiday favorites.
Rat Pack Remembered,
featuring a full hour of Jim’s distinctive solo piano
arrangements of the most beloved hits of Frank Sinatra, Dean
Martin and Sammy Davis, Jr;
Isn’t It Romantic, the second in his series of classic love songs;
- New in 2011, Christmas Eve: Timeless Christmas Favorites, Vol. III;
- Young At Heart, , filled with beloved themes from classic movies for the young -- and the young at heart;
- One Nation Under God, a
collection of American themes -- old and new -- that inspire and unite;
- And his most recent release, Country Roads, the second in Jim’s series of country favorites.
Now in its eleventh year, Jim's annual "Holiday Grande" concert
tour has become a must-attend tradition for thousands of families
each Christmas. The spectacular holiday stage production includes
Jim at the grand piano, his 14-piece orchestra, a cast of singers
and dancers, elaborate sets and costumes and the true spirit of
In 2010, Jim was honored by the legendary piano maker, Steinway & Sons, naming him to its worldwide artist roster. From classical pianists like Lang Lang, to jazz stars like Diana Krall and Harry Connick Jr., to pop icons like Billy Joel, to “immortals” like Irving Berling and Cole Porter; as a Steinway Artist, McDonough joins an exclusive international list of the most accomplished and discriminating performing artists.
Today, Jim is touring the country, preparing a new CD, and working
to get the word out about his music to fans from coast to coast.