In the late 1990s, Jeb Bishop became one of the most visible figures in creative music. In addition to recording two projects as a band leader, 1999’s 98 Duets and Jeb Bishop Trio, he played trombone in four groups led by cellist Fred Lonberg-Holms, a free jazz tentet led by saxophonist and clarinetist Peter Brötzmann, and an experimental jazz ensemble called the Vandermark 5, for which he also doubled on guitar. A former member of various punk and indie rock bands as well, Bishop does not limit his talents to the jazz genre. He often performs with the avant-classical group Ensemble Noamnesia, and he has guested on albums by numerous indie and avant-garde bands, including Stereolab, Superchunk, Tortoise, David Grubbs, and Jim O’Rourke.
Born around 1962 in Raleigh, North Carolina, Bishop left his hometown in 1980, relocating to Chicago to study orchestral music at Northwestern University. However, after studying classical trombone for two years, feelings of disillusionment led him back to Raleigh. Upon his return, he temporarily packed his instrument away in the attic of his parents’ home and started playing bass guitar for various Southeastern punk and pop combos, including a local hardcore band called the Stillborn Christians. He also enrolled at North Carolina State University to pursue a degree in engineering. Still indecisive about this field of study, as well as his future in music, Bishop traveled to Belgium for a brief time to study philosophy at the University of Louvain, where he enrolled in graduate courses. It was here that Bishop had the opportunity to witness an impressive display of jazz artists from across the globe, taking in performances by American jazz innovators such as saxophonists Anthony Braxton and Steve Lacy. While in Belgium, Bishop also met European trombonist Garrett List and visited the musician’s free jazz improvisation class at the conservatory in Liège.
Bishop, energized with a new sense of purpose and a growing interest in jazz, returned to North Carolina in 1985. Despite his experiences overseas, Bishop decided to focus on rock music rather than jazz, forming the experimental pop band the Angels of Epistemology. The group released one album, Fruit, on the Merge label before disbanding. Bishop spent the late 1980s taking philosophy courses in Tucson, Arizona, deciding to let go of his musical aspirations, aside from dabbling in self-taught classical guitar and playing for a short time in a noisy Tucson rock band. Nevertheless, from 1989 until around 1992, Bishop never picked up his trombone.
In 1990, Bishop moved back to his adopted home of Chicago to further his graduate studies at Northwestern. Unable to ignore the variety of music the city offered, Bishop began to contemplate a musical career again. Soon after his arrival, he met and developed a friendship with saxophone/clarinet player Ken Vandermark. Vandermark has become one of the world’s most respected post-modern, free jazz musicians, often combining elements of rhythm and blues and rock into his compositions. In addition to establishing contact with Vandermark, Bishop, in 1992, joined a punk-jazz ensemble called the Flying Luttenbachers playing bass, further establishing a course for himself in free jazz. By 1993, Bishop had quit his studies in order to give his full attention to music.
Around the same time, Bishop retrieved his trombone again, but would not play the instrument in public until 1995, the year he joined Vandermark’s quintet, known as the Vandermark 5. In this ongoing ensemble, Bishop played both trombone and electric guitar. “He’s been on the scene a short amount of time, and the velocity of his development is astounding,” Vandermark said of Bishop’s talents, as quoted by Bill Meyer in Magnet magazine. “Being around him and seeing how intense he is about his instrument is inspiring.” The quintet’s first album, Single Piece Flow, arrived in 1996, and from that moment, Bishop became a much sought-after backing musician. However, Bishop’s appeal was not limited to the jazz scene. Following the release of Single Piece Flow, he made an acclaimed appearance on Stereolab’s Dots and Loops album and the EP Miss Modular (both released in 1997) that provided him a strong reputation within Chicago’s post-rock community. He guested on
Born c. 1962 in Raleigh, NC. Education: Studied orchestral music and classical trombone, and later graduate-level philosophy, at Northwestern University; studied philosophy at the University of Louvain in Belgium; studied engineering at North Carolina State University.
Moved to Chicago to pursue graduate studies and struck a friendship with Ken Vandermark, 1990; joined punk-jazz ensemble called the Flying Luttenbachers, 1992; joined Vandermark’s quintet, the Vandermark 5, 1995; appeared on Stereolab’s album Dots and Loops, 1997; released debut as a bandleader with 98 Duets, 1998; released Jeb Bishop Trio, 1999.
several other non-jazz releases in 1997, including Jim O’Rourke’s acclaimed Bad Timing, Last Time I Committed Suicide’s self-titled LP, and Cheer Accident’s Enduring the American Dream.
In 1998, Bishop released his debut as a bandleader, 98 Duets, on the independent label Wobbly Rail Records, a subsidiary of Merge Records founded by Superchunk front man Mac McCaughan (McCaughan and co-member of Superchunk Laura Balance operate Merge together). He started the imprint after realizing that numerous talented, under-appreciated jazz musicians, both old and young, needed a way of getting their music to the public. For 98 Duets, Bishop documented his spontaneous, experimental side with a backing band that included Vandermark, cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, drummer Hamid Drake, bassist Josh Abrams, trumpeter Leo Smith, and saxophonist Mats Gustafsson. “Their explorations,” concluded Meyer, “take in breathy abstractions, gorgeous celebrations of sound and fragile, lyrical statements.” According to Bishop, his attraction to unusual sounds was nothing new. “From an early age, I’ve been attracted to stuff that was dissonant or somehow outside,” as quoted by Meyer. “A lot of what I’ve done is always dealing with stuff that strikes me as somehow outside some kind of boundaries.”
In addition to releasing his debut, the album Destroy All Music with the Flying Luttenbachers, and the album Target or Flag with the Vandermark 5, Bishop appeared on other jazz and indie rock albums that year, including Gastro del Sol’s Camofleur, David Grubbs’ Thicket, and Loren Mazzacan Connors’ Hoffman Estates. Several other guest appearances came the following year. Bishop, along with Vandermark and Lonberg-Holm, played on Superchunk’s 1999 release Come Pick Me Up. “And we didn’t use them like you’d usually hear them,” Superchunk’s guitarist McCaughan told Steve Dollar of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. “We told them to try and play like the E Street Band.” Other album appearances by Bishop that year included the Vandermark 5’s Simpatico, Vandermark’s solo release entitled Straight Lines, Peter Brötzmann’s The Chicago Octet/Tentet, multi-instrumentalist Joe McPhee’s The Brass City (which included compositions by Bishop as well), Simon Joyner’s Lousy Dance, and the Aluminum Group’s Pedals.
The year 1999 also saw the release of another Bishop solo effort, Jeb Bishop Trio, recorded in Chicago in November of 1997 with bassist Kent Kessler and drummer Tim Mulvenna (who also played with Vandermark’s quintet). According to Bishop, the impetus for starting the trio resulted from working with the inspiring rhythm section, led by Kessler and Mulvenna, of the Vandermark 5.”With Ken’s music, the blowing space is constrained by the overall form, which is usually pretty complicated,” Bishop reported, as quoted by his website at Okkadisk. “I wanted something that would let everyone stretch out, including me. And to have the interest of the music come from seeing how we deal with that space.”
The album, issued by the established Okkadisk label, included seven tracks, all but one (”Anticipation of an Embrace” by Lisle Ellis) composed by Bishop. In contrast to 98 Duets, Jeb Bishop Triocentered around melody rather than experimental sounds, although both projects earned critical praise. “Eschewing avant garde trickery, Bishop applies his robust tone to the business of no nonsense jazz improvisation,” according to the Summer 1999 issue of the Wire, as quoted by Bishop’s website. “Strong melodies supply the impetus, but the group takes its time, delving and probing, working through the options.” With two acclaimed albums that secured his status as a commanding improviser and respected instrumentalist, Bishop continued to collaborate with other musicians and planned to compose more work for both large and small ensembles.
98 Duets, Wobbly Rail, 1998.
Jeb Bishop Trio, Okkadisk, 1999.
Cook, Richard and Brian Morton, editors, Penguin Guide to Jazz on Compact Disc, Penguin Books, 1998.
Swenson, John, editor, Rolling Stone Jazz and Blues Album Guide, Random House, 1999.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution, June 18, 1999.
Chicago Tribune, January 29, 1997; September 19, 1997; December 16, 1998; December 19, 1998.
Magnet, April/May 1999, p. 18.
University Wire, May 13, 1999.
All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (January 26, 2000).
Jeb Bishop at Okkadisk, http://www.okkadisk.com/artists/bishop.html (January 26, 2000).
"Bishop, Jeb." Contemporary Musicians. . Encyclopedia.com. (February 20, 2019). https://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/bishop-jeb
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