Talbert's lush arrangements, influenced by Debussy and other classical composers, anticipated the "Third Stream" jazz of Gunther Schuller.
Talbert launched his music career as an arranger for a military band during World War II. In the late 1940s, he led a group in Los Angeles and performed with vocalist Anita O'Day.
In the 1950s, Talbert arranged music for the bands of Buddy Rich, Stan Kenton, and Claude Thornhill, among other groups. He also released Bix Fats Duke: Interpretations by Tom Talbert, which featured arrangements of music by Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, and Fats Waller.
Talbert eventually moved to the Midwest, where he led a band in the 1960s and '70s, and then to California, where he wrote music for television and made several recordings.