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jaimie branch Biography
Who was jaimie branch ?
Jaimie Branch, a trumpeter who combined punk ferocity with advanced technique in her version of improvised music, winning praise in and out of jazz circles, died Monday night at her home in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, New York. 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 years old.
Branch could conjure up a world of personal expression on her trumpet, sounding brash and conflagratory one moment, sleepy and contemplative the next. What she always conveyed with her trumpet, on any stage, was absolute, full-length conviction. One of the reasons she’s become a fixture in the creative music community over the last decade was this spirit of bold intensity. Her demeanor, by comparison, was often hilariously profane and ultra-casual, qualities she hinted at with a preferred nickname of hers, jaimie breezy branch (no capitals).
She was a rising star who had amassed a worldwide following and a slew of critical acclaim in the last five years, especially for her work with the handsomely rough chamber band, FLY or DIE. Along with Branch on trumpet and vocals, she featured Jason Ajemian on bass, Chad Taylor on drums, and Tomeka Reid or Lester St. Louis on cello. NPR Music recognized FLY or DIE’s self-titled debut as one of the 50 Best Albums of 2017. (The group also made my personal list of the 10 Best Jazz Performances that year.) A sequel, FLY or DIE II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, made the Top 10 in NPR’s 2019 Jazz Music Critics Poll.
The trumpet wasn’t the only tool in Branch’s creative arsenal: she was a skilled producer and electronic artist, and she ultimately ventured fully into the voice, spoken and sung. As WBEZ’s Nereida Moreno reported in 2019, branch focused on the resurgence of nativist and racist ideologies with “oración por amerikkka,” a FLY or DIE II article so titled because, as she told Moreno at the time, “this country was really based on genocide and slavery, so let’s be real about it.”
Before she was widely known for any political stance, Branch was hailed in new music circles for the dynamic range and steady power of her trumpet playing. She was a welcome presence at the Festival of New Trumpet Music (FONT Music) in New York, which featured her as early as 2007, and on multiple occasions since.
Chicago Trumpeter Jaimie Branch Delivers a Political Message on ‘FLY or DIE II’
“It gave us a lot of ideas about how the trumpet could be involved in music differently,” trumpeter and songwriter Dave Douglas, founder of FONT Music, told NPR. “He had a vision to synthesize the voices of his inspirations and take them to new levels no one thought possible. It’s a tragic loss for our community.”
Those inspirations covered a spectrum, from the murmuring warmth of Chet Baker to the mischievous rumble of Lester Bowie. Like Bowie and Miles Davis, another key influence, Branch was able to place her sound within the tumult of an assertive band, sometimes breaking through and sometimes digging in. A version of “Theme 002” recorded in Switzerland in early 2020, and later included on FLY or DIE LIVE, finds it swaying and weaving against an elastic variation of the dub beat before the beat dissolves into freeform static. It’s a clear distillation of Branch’s style as an improviser, though it’s also just an understated piece.
Born June 17, 1983, in Huntington, N.Y., Branch grew up in a musically nurturing environment, inspired in part by the example of her half-brother, a decade her senior. She started playing the piano at the age of 3 and at 9 she had already dedicated herself to the trumpet. After a few years, she later recalled, it was clear that this would be her calling.
The Branch family moved from Long Island to Chicago’s northern suburbs, Wilmette, Ill., when Jamie was 14 years old. At the New England Conservatory in Boston, she studied with Charles Schlueter, then the principal trumpeter of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, as well as experienced improvisers such as guitarist Joe Morris and trumpeter John McNeil. As a student at NEC, she also discovered the experimental sound palette of German trumpeter Axel Dörner, quickly falling down a rabbit hole of extended technique: circular breathing, multiphonics, spectral resonance, pure sound areas.
This burgeoning area of expertise served Branch well when she returned to Chicago, home to some of the most free-thinking composers and improvisers on the planet. Among her early champions was cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, with whom she formed a trio. Before long she also met Ajemian, Reid and Taylor, as well as Chicago mainstays like multi-reedist Ken Vandermark, drummer Frank Rosaly and flutist Nicole Mitchell.
Another move in 2012, to study in a graduate program at Towson University, exacerbated some personal struggles: “Baltimore is a tough city to live in if you want to stop using heroin,” Branch told Peter Margasak in a 2017 article. for the Chicago Reader. . She left Townson after two years, enrolled in a treatment program on Long Island, and found her way to Brooklyn.
She met a new crop of collaborators in New York, including tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, drummer Mike Pride and guitarist Ava Mendoza. At the same time, she retained the Chicago energy in her music, most recently in an ambient improvisational duo called Anteloper, featuring Branch on trumpet, electronics, percussion and vocals, with Jason Nazary on synths and drums.