In Memoriam: Jaimie Branch, 1983–2022


Branch’s music reflected a boundless imagination and remarkable technique.

(Photo: Michael Jackson)

Trumpeter Jaimie Branch, whose music reflected a boundless imagination and remarkable technique, died Aug. 22 at her home in Brooklyn, New York. She was 39.

“Jaimie had a vision from the beginning as both a player and composer,” guitarist Bill MacKay said. “Her trumpet sound was beautiful and very inventive. She was serious and irreverent at the same time. She could bore in on melodic ideas but could then spontaneously explore something else in an interesting way. This was indistinguishable from her personality.”

Branch pursued an array of musical directions within a short amount of time. She started to receive considerable attention in 2017 with the release of her Fly or Die quartet’s self-titled album (International Anthem). Her tone on such pieces as “Leaves Of Glass” created shifting directions for her ensemble without abandoning a core lyricism. The 2019 followup, Fly Or Die II: Bird Dogs Of Paradise, includes “Prayer for Amerikkka, Pt. 1–2,” which features her spoken-word narrative decrying the country’s racism and incipient fascism. Recently, Branch had planned a tour with Anteloper, an electronics-based free-improv duo with drummer Jason Nazary. Anteloper released its Pink Dolphins in June. Along with her own groups, Branch was also active in guitarist Dave Gisler’s trio and collaborated with such rock bands as TV On The Radio.

Branch eagerly took on challenges throughout her life. After spending her early childhood on Long Island, she moved with her family to the Chicago suburb of Wilmette when she was 9. At first she studied piano but switched to trumpet and became excited with jazz’s improvisational possibilities.

She settled in the city after graduating from New England Conservatory in 2005, diligently honed her skills and became friends with such like-minded musicians as bassists Jason Ajemian and Anton Hatwich, as well as saxophonist Keefe Jackson (the latter had also been her coworker at Jazz Record Mart).

“Jaimie was such an amazing trumpet player,” Jackson said. “Obliqueness, abstraction: That type of approach was very natural to her. She would dance around the melody instead of brashly stating it.”

Branch presented concerts at venues ranging from Heaven Gallery to the German-American cultural center DANK Haus. Of her skills, drive and community spirit, Jackson remembered, “We were all waiting, ‘OK, what’s Jaimie’s band going to be? Will she write a bunch of tunes that bring her recognition?’”

But that wider appreciation took time after some difficult turns. Branch struggled with heroin addiction, telling writer Peter Margasak in the Chicago Reader that she started using the drug in 2008. After attending the graduate program at Towson University in Baltimore for two years, she dropped out in 2014. She completed a Long Island rehab program and moved to Brooklyn’s Red Hook neighborhood in 2015.

There, she picked up with the same determined spirit that she showed in her Chicago days. She formed Fly or Die with other former Chicagoans who were then living in the New York area. The distinctive instrumental textures highlighted Branch’s individualistic method of composing.

“She was also one of the most fearless musicians I know, never afraid to enter the unknown,” Taylor said. That spirit came across when Branch returned to Chicago in 2021 for a Fly or Die II concert at Constellation. Her tone moved from muted to brash as her group flowed. Branch invoked righteous anger and playful humor that conveyed an affirmation of life. DB

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