|Jaimie Branch. Photo by Peter Gannushkin|
It’s horrible news that trumpeter and composer Jaimie Branch has died in her home in Red Hook, Brooklyn. She was only 39 years old.
Branch, who was born in Huntington, Long Island, began playing the trumpet at the age of nine and later studied at the New England Conservatory of Music. In her teens, she moved with her family to Chicago and later returned to work there as a musician, promoter and sound engineer in the scene with Jason Ajemian, Tim Daisy and Ken Vandermark, among others. During those years, she formed the trio Princess, Princess (with bassist Toby Summerfield and drummer Frank Rosaly). With Jason Stein, Jeb Bishop and Jason Roebke, she played in Block and Tackle. In 2012, she moved to Baltimore, where she earned a master’s degree in jazz performance from Towson University. During this time, she also founded the record label Pionic Records, releasing her music in vinyl pressings, and performed with her formation Bomb Shelter. Back in New York City, she went on to work with Brandon Lopez, Fred Lonberg-Holm, and Mike Pride, among others. She also participated in recording sessions with independent rock groups but it took her until her thirties before she had her breakthrough with the globally acclaimed Fly Or Die Quartet, which included Chad Taylor (drums), Jason Ajemian (bass), and Lester St. Louis and Tomeka Reid (cello), respectively. “I attempted to put out a couple of records myself and they didn’t really come out, so I had that earlier failure,” Branch said in an interview with the Village Voice. She felt she needed to “live life,” soak up more experience. “So I waited, and I played music, and I got caught up in drugs, and dealt with that but just kept playing.” Her drug issues — precisely her heroin addiction — had been behind her, she said. With Fly Or Die Branch put together rawness and delicacy in such an artful and idiosyncratic way that one could not really find a comparison. The way this extraordinarily intense improviser was capable of spectacular flights of fancy when grounded to the max and handled her instrument was sensational and indeed never heard before. Her energy alternated between minimalist structures, HipHop and punk, song form and collective improvisation.
Anyone who has seen Branch live will never forget her electric presence. How she wandered across the stage and through the audience in her often flowing clothes, a mic in one hand, her trumpet in the other, joking with people. With Fly Or Die, she could rock every house. The band knew how to build up tension, loud passages were always followed by tender moments, sometimes Branch let the compositions implode, only to enter the next free sound field again. She managed to get the audience to sing along without being awkward - few can do that. During the set break at the Mars Williams Ayler Christmas Project concert in Weikersheim in December 2018, she chatted animatedly with a few of us about her dog, smoking like a chimney, possessed with a pure joy for life. Nothing is known about the circumstances of her death at the time of this writing. The news that she has passed away has hit me like a bolt of lightning in the middle of the night. Our thoughts are with her family. The jazz world is poorer today.
Watch her in concert here:
Unbelievable. One of the few I always pointed to when asked if free jazz was still around. She will be missed.
Every time I bump into something really innovative, musically speaking, my life in general becomes brighter and more resplendent. Jaimie Branch was one of the greatest innovators in contemporary music and art, mainly because she didn't give a shit about boundaries or compartmentalization. By the way, here lies the strength of the current contemporary music scene: Music hadn't ever been so 'free' before. Thanks to Jaimie and the hundreds of musicians you use to talk about in this incredibly precious site, music has reached a never matched before degree of freedom.
One evening, after watching one of her indescribable no boundaries' live shows, I had the opportunity and the privilege to have a little chat with her. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe I overestimated the importance of that moment, but it just took a few seconds to build an inner connection between us. Maybe it was just the dream of a fool, but I'd swear I had the chance to see the beauty of her wide open heart.
So sad. And indeed unbelievable. Saw her in a few settings, and always amazing. Music you think about after. Her "Fly or Die" performance at Vision Festival in 2021 was a real high point. Game-changing recordings, too. Truly a loss. RIP.
This is so heartbreaking. Far too young. One of the most exciting new players in the last decade.
A sad, sad loss. She was one of those artists working so hard to bring the music we love to a new generation of listeners. Looking at the tributes that have been pouring in online, it's easy to see that her appeal went far beyond the typical "jazz musician" label.
I recently saw breezy live with her Anteloper duo and was blown away once again. She was one of the few artists to bring avant-garde Jazz into the future of the art. Her use of electronic music into her innovative mix was truly innovative and exciting. Her trumpet work was also extraordinary and boundary pushing. As with the elite artists of the genre, she was especially adept at taking “mistakes” and making them fit the composition brilliantly. What a personality! A bit punk, a bit hip hop, a bit electronic but wholly rooted in the jazz language. So long dear breezy, you left us early but you left your mark on those of us lucky enough to experience your art.
Rest in Peace. Such a loss!
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