Jaimie Branch, lauded trumpeter & composer tragically passed away at 39

Jaimie Branch died young 

Jaimie Branch, a composer and trumpeter who pushed boundaries, passed away. 39 years old. Her label announced the shocking information.

Trumpeter Jaimie Branch passed away on Monday night at her residence in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Jaimie Branch’s rendition of improvisational music merged punk aggression with cutting-edge skill, winning praise both inside and outside of jazz circles. International Anthem, the Chicago-based record label that distributed her music, made a statement about her passing. The statement, which was written after consulting with her family, didn’t give a reason.

Jaimie Branch

Jaimie Branch’s trumpet could generate an universe of individual expression, sounding loud and conflagratory one second and weary and somber the next. In whatever situation, she always expressed a complete, whole-body conviction with her horn. This spirit of gutsy intensity was one of the reasons she rose to become a cherished pillar of the creative music community over the past 10 years. In contrast, her behavior was frequently comically vulgar and ultracasual, traits she alluded to with her preferred name, Jaimie Breezy Branch.

Jaimie Branch was a rising star

Jaimie Branch was a rising talent who had gained a large fan base and received numerous accolades over the previous five years, particularly for her work with FLY or DIE, a chamber-like yet aesthetically rough-hewn ensemble. Branch provided the trumpet and vocals, and there was also Chad Taylor on the drums, Jason Ajemian on the bass, and either Tomeka Reid or Lester St. Louis on the cello. The self-titled debut by FLY or DIE was named one of the Top 50 Albums of 2017 by NPR Music. The 2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll included a sequel, FLY or DIE II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, in its top 10.

Jaimie Branch

Branch had a variety of artistic talents in addition to the trumpet; she was an accomplished producer and electronic musician who had recently forayed into spoken and sung vocals. Branch’s essay “prayer for America” from FLY or DIE II, which was so named because, as she told WBEZ’s Nereida Moreno at the time, “this country was really founded on genocide and slavery, so let’s just be real about that,” targeted the rise of nativist and racist ideologies, as Moreno reported in 2019.

Jaimie Branch was praised in new music circles for the dynamic range and grounded power of her trumpet playing before she became well recognized for any political stance. Jaimie Branch performed in the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT Music) in New York beginning in 2007 and on numerous occasions after that.

Dave Douglas, a trumpet player and composer and the founder of FONT Music, tells NPR that “she provided us so many insights about how the trumpet could engage in the music differently.” “She had a vision for combining the voices of her influences and elevating them to to heights that no one had previously imagined being feasible. It’s a terrible loss for our neighborhood.”

These sources of influence ranged widely, from Lester Bowie’s sly blare to Chet Baker’s soft murmur. Jaimie Branch, who was also heavily influenced by Miles Davis and David Bowie, was at at blending in and cutting through the clamor of a forceful band with her music. The early 2020 recording of “Theme 002,” which was eventually released on FLY or DIE LIVE, features her bobbing and weaving to a lively dub rhythm before the beat dissipates into freeform static. Although it just consists of one distinct composition, it neatly captures Branch’s improvising technique.

Jaimie Branch

Jaimie Branch, who was born on June 17, 1983 in Huntington, New York, grew up in a supportive musical environment, in part thanks to the example set by her half-brother, who is ten years her senior. At age 3, she began playing the piano; by age 9, she had switched to trumpet. She recalled that it became apparent within a short period of time that this would be her calling.

When Jaimie was 14 years old, the Branch family relocated from Long Island to Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago. She trained with seasoned improvisers including guitarist Joe Morris and trumpeter John McNeil at the New England Conservatory in Boston, as well as Charles Schlueter, who was then the principal trumpeter in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. She also came across the experimental trumpeter Axel Dörner’s sound palette as a student at NEC, which sent her into a rabbit hole of advanced technique that included circular breathing, multiphonics, spectral resonance, and zones of pure sound.

This developing field of knowledge helped Branch when she went back to Chicago, which is home to some of the world’s most unconventional composer-improvisers. The cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, with whom she formed a trio, was one of her earliest supporters. She soon encountered Chicago veterans like multi-reedist Ken Vandermark, drummer Frank Rosaly, and flutist Nicole Mitchell in addition to Ajemian, Reid, and Taylor.

Another transfer in 2012 to enroll in a graduate degree at Towson University aggravated her personal issues: “Baltimore is a hard town to live in if you want to quit taking heroin,” branch said in a 2017 Chicago Reader article. After two years, she left Towson, enrolled in a Long Island rehab center, and eventually made her way to Brooklyn.

In New York, Jaimie Branch connected with a fresh group of musicians, including guitarist Ava Mendoza, drummer Mike Pride, and tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis. She recently performed in an ambient-improv duo called Anteloper with Branch on trumpet, electronics, percussion, and vocals and Jason Nazary on synths and drums. At the same time, she maintained a knockabout Chicago spirit in her music.

Jaimie Branch put FLY or DIE back on the road this spring when the pandemic limitations lifted sufficiently to allow for touring to continue. Among them was a performance by the charitable Ars Nova Workshop at the Ruba Club in Philadelphia. According to Mark Christman, the Executive and Artistic Director of ANW, “Jaimie used her music as an extraordinary vehicle to connect the creative and the critical.” She did what every great jazz musician does with that inventive, improvisational, home-made tool: she utilized it to imagine other futures, deal with trauma, and maintain resilience.