Jaimie Branch, RIP
jaimie branch, a trumpeter who combined punk ferocity with advanced technique in her version of improvised music, earning acclaim within and well outside of jazz circles, died on Monday night at her home in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, N.Y. Her death was announced by International Anthem, the Chicago-based label that released her music. (The statement, made in consultation with her family, did not provide a cause.) She was 39.
branch could conjure a world of personal expression with her trumpet, sounding brash and conflagratory one moment, bleary and contemplative the next. What she always conveyed with her horn, in any setting, was an absolute whole-body conviction. One reason she became a beloved linchpin of the creative music community over the last decade was this spirit of gutsy intensity. Her demeanor, by comparison, was often hilariously profane and ultracasual — qualities she hinted at with a preferred moniker, jaimie breezy branch (no caps).
She was a rising star who’d amassed a worldwide following and no shortage of critical acclaim over the last five years, especially for her work with a chamberlike yet attractively rough-hewn band, FLY or DIE. Along with branch on trumpet and vocals, it featured Jason Ajemian on bass, Chad Taylor on drums, and either Tomeka Reid or Lester St. Louis on cello. NPR Music recognized FLY or DIE’s self-titled debut as one of the Top 50 Albums of 2017. (The group also made my personal list of Top 10 jazz performances that year). A sequel, FLY or DIE II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, landed in the Top 10 in the 2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll.
To lose someone like this at such an age is a huge blow to the future of music. Between her and Ron Miles, this has been a horrible year for the trumpet community, two major voices lost far too young. Branch was such a new and outstanding voice, someone who took modern jazz and added so many other influences to it, becoming one of the leading improvisers in a community that hasn’t always accepted young women.
The family did not list a cause, but Branch has been open about her heroin addiction problems of the past, and so this might well be yet another great jazz musician lost to that drug.
In any case, at least we can listen to some of her work. I will have more on this during the next Music Notes, which should come on Saturday.