Along with his family, he founded one of the first all-black ensembles Das Negertrio. He was more popular in Europe than in his native land.
He became the first Cuban composer who worked with the Lied form.
His father was violinist Jose Julian Jiménez, who, along with his aunt musician-composer Catalina Berroa, taught the boy music as a child.
He and Franz Liszt became friends while he was involved in the Weimar court.