He was the son of composer Walter Bishop, Sr.. In high school his friends included Kenny Drew, Sonny Rollins, and Art Taylor. He began his musical career after World War II, and played and recorded with Art Blakey, Charlie Parker, Oscar Pettiford, Kai Winding, Miles Davis, Jackie McLean, Curtis Fuller, Terry Gibbs, Clark Terry, Blue Mitchell, and Supersax. In the early 1960s he also led his own trio with Jimmy Garrison and G. T. Hogan. He continued performing into the 1990s.
After studying at The Juilliard School with Hall Overton in the late 1960s, he taught music theory at colleges in Los Angeles in the 1970s. In 1983 he began teaching at The Hartt School of the University of Hartford. He also wrote a book, A Study in Fourths, about jazz improvisation based on cycles of fourths and fifths.