In the fall of 2004 Chicagoan Jeb Bishop, who ranks among the world’s best jazz trombonists, started a year-long hiatus from playing music, limiting himself to just a handful of gigs during that time. Since 1999 Bishop has been suffering from tinnitus, the product of his years of playing rock music. Before devoting himself to jazz full time, Bishop played in various bands in North Carolina, including Metal Pitcher—a pre-Superchunk outfit with Mac McCaughan and Laura Ballance—as well as his own Angels of Epistemology. In Chicago he joined the even-louder Flying Luttenbachers, playing bass in the group for a couple of years.
He struggled to play through the condition for years, but eventually it became too much for him. “It was increasingly a problem for me psychologically, and some of the symptoms were making themselves felt on stage, making it harder for me to perform,” he told me yesterday. His decision meant he was no longer a member of several key ensembles, among them the Vandermark 5 and the Brötzmann Chicago Tentet. But last fall he returned to the stage and has been a reliable presence ever since. “I pursued a couple of therapies for the problems that did help,” he says. “The damage can’t be reversed, and the ringing is still there, but I’ve learned to cope with it a lot better than I was before, and I don’t feel bothered during performance the way I did previously.”
Bishop recently performed at the Chicago Jazz Festival with the Lucky 7s, a ensemble of Chicagoans and some displaced New Orleans players that formed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. (Fellow trombonist Jeff Albert still lives in the Crescent City.) And this month his quartet the Engines—with drummer Tim Daisy, bassist Nate McBride, and saxophonist Dave Rempis, is playing every Tuesday at the new Velvet Lounge. In November Bishop will join some powerful company when he joins Alexander von Schlippenbach’s German free-jazz ensemble, Globe Unity Orchestra, for a 40th anniversary concert at this year’s Berlin Jazz Festival, enhancing a powerful trombone section that also includes Paul Rutherford, Johannes Bauer, and fellow American George Lewis.