Born in Raleigh, NC, Jeb Bishop began playing the trombone at the age of 10, and majored in classical trombone performance at Northwestern University from 1980-82, studying with Frank Crisafulli. Deciding he did not want to pursue a career as an orchestral musician, he returned to Raleigh in 1982 and took up engineering studies at NC State University. Raleigh's developing underground rock scene attracted him, and from 1982-84 he played bass guitar in rock bands in the Raleigh area.
After studying philosophy abroad and stateside, he returned to Chicago in 1992, and completed his M.A. at Loyola in 1993. By this time he had already begun to make connections with improvising musicians in Chicago, having joined the Flying Luttenbachers as bassist (later adding trombone) in late 1992, and playing guitar occasionally in a quartet with Weasel Walter, Ken Vandermark, and Kevin Drumm. Other bands during this period included the Unheard Music Quartet (with Vandermark, Mike Hagedorn on trombone, and Otto Huber on drums) and the Rev Trio (with Walter and saxophonist Joe Vajarsky). Bishop played electric bass in both these bands.
In late 1995, Bishop joined the Vandermark 5 as one of its founding members, and remained with the band through the end of 2004. During this period he also became associated with many other groups, including the Peter Brötzmann Chicago Tentet, School Days, Ken Vandermark's Territory Band, and his own Jeb Bishop Trio, and became a very frequent participant in ad hoc and free-improvised concerts in Chicago. Bishop performed in the inaugural concerts of two of the longest-running free-music concert series in Chicago: the Myopic Books weekly concerts (originally at Czar Bar; with Rev Trio) and the Empty Bottle Wednesday night concert series (with a quartet of Terri Kapsalis, Kevin Drumm, and Jim O'Rourke). He curated the monthly Chicago Improvisers Group concerts at the Green Mill from 1999-2002, and co-curated the weekly Eight Million Heroes concert series at Sylvie's in 2005-6.