Jeb Bishop (Philosophy ’89) is improvisational by nature. Over the course of his hugely successful career as a jazz musician, staying open to possibility has enabled him to do what he loves: create music in the moment.
Bishop started his college career at Northwestern University after graduating from Raleigh’s Sanderson High School. He spent two years working toward a life as a professional orchestral musician. In 1982, he switched tracks, returned to Raleigh and declared an engineering major at NC State. But not for long. “An encounter with Descartes at D.H. Hill, when I should have been doing physics homework, was enough to derail my half-hearted foray into engineering,” he says.
Outside the classroom, Bishop explored the intersections of traditional jazz, punk and the liberating world of free jazz, with ample sprinklings of bluegrass and traditional folk music. “I was going down the street to the Record Hole and Reader’s Corner, picking up a lot of used records,” he says. He started playing and performing, too, in such bands as Stillborn Christians and Angels of Epistemology, which is remembered for its eclectic and outside-the-box approaches to music.
As for his studies, Bishop counts himself lucky to have encountered the teachers and classes he had at NC State. He remembers in particular “the generosity my teachers showed in being willing to discuss questions with me outside the classroom. I became a pretty frequent visitor during office hours and easily learned as much from those discussions, and extra reading they led me to, as from coursework. Donald VanDeVeer, Randy Carter, and Robert Hambourger all provided challenging and stimulating dialogues that gave me a wonderful model of philosophical inquiry through the interaction of minds.”
Several segues after graduating, Bishop and his trombone landed in Chicago. While he earned a master’s degree in philosophy from Loyola in Chicago in 1993, he also pursued his growing passion for free jazz. He became a mainstay in Chicago jazz, helping alter the city’s music during the 1990s, as he had in Raleigh during the 1980s. He earned a reputation worldwide as a gifted trombonist and collaborator in free jazz and improvised music, forging partnerships with some of the most celebrated performers in the genre. As a member of the Vandermark 5 — a Chicago staple — and through his own Jeb Bishop Trio, he has garnered wide acclaim.
Bishop returned to the Triangle in 2012 when his wife took a job at UNC-Chapel Hill. He continues to tour several months a year. In addition to playing clubs and smaller venues across North America and Europe, he performs at jazz festivals from Chicago to Berlin, Vancouver, Paris, Lyon and Seville.
And about that philosophy major? “Even though it turned out to be an extended detour rather than the path to a career I once thought it might be, I believe that the habits of thought I acquired have served me well,” he says. “And the experience of pursuing the issues and questions of philosophy that attracted me was a great and enriching one.”
Jeb Bishop was the subject of a profile in the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies newsletter and in the Spring 2014 issue of NC State, the magazine of the Alumni Association. This article draws from both. Read a subsequent email interview the Alumni Association conducted with Bishop about recordings that have helped shape him as a musician. And visit Bishop’s website at http://jebbishop.com/