His father, also named Jimmy Woode, was a music teacher and pianist who had played with Hot Lips Page. Woode studied piano and bass in Boston at Boston University and at the Conservatory of Music, as well as at the Philadelphia Academy.
He played and/or recorded in bands with Flip Phillips, Sarah Vaughan, Ella Fitzgerald, Charlie Parker, Nat Pierce, Sidney Bechet, Billie Holiday, Jaki Byard, Earl Hines, Jimmy Witherspoon and Miles Davis.
He joined the Duke Ellington Orchestra in 1955, appearing on many of Ellington's recordings, including Such Sweet Thunder and Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Duke Ellington Songbook, both from 1957, as well as the historic 1956 Newport Jazz Festival session. He stayed with the Orchestra until 1960, when he left to live in Europe.
Jimmy Woode's song "Just Give Me Time" was covered by Carola in 1966, first released on her album Carola & Heikki Sarmanto Trio, reaching the Finnish charts in 2004.
In 2003, Woode formed a trio with renowned drummer Pete York and German jazz musician/comedian Helge Schneider, reaching a younger generation of listeners on a tour through Germany with his interpretation of jazz classics such as "Georgia" and "Summertime". As a consequence of his co-operation with Schneider, Woode also starred in the 2004 feature film Jazzclub. In the role of Steinberg, a struggling jazz bassist, he showed considerable acting skills.
- The Colorful Strings of Jimmy Woode (Argo, 1958)
With Kenny Clarke
With Ted Curson
- Urge (Fontana, 1966)
- Tough Tenors Again 'n' Again (MPS, 1970)
WIth Nathan Davis
- The Hip Walk
- Peace Treaty
- Happy Girl
With Eric Dolphy
- Stockholm Sessions (Enja, 1961)
With Duke Ellington
- Blue Rose (Columbia, 1956)
With Art Farmer
- Gentle Eyes (Mainstream, 1972)
With Paul Gonsalves
- Cookin' (Argo, 1957)
With Johnny Griffin
- Night Lady (Philips, 1964)
- European Encounter (Atlantic, 1962)
- Live At »Domicile« Munich (BASF, 1971)
With Sahib Shihab
- Summer Dawn (Chess, 1964)
- Seeds (Atlantic, 1968)
- Commitment' (1970)
- Sunbirds (BASF, 1971)
- Zagara (Polydor/Finger, 1973)
With Clark Terry
- Out on a Limb with Clark Terry (Argo, 1957)
With Mal Waldron
- Black Glory (Enja, 1971)
- Mal Waldron Plays the Blues (Enja, 1971)
- A Touch of the Blues (Enja, 1972)
- One-Upmanship (Enja, 1977)