Jaimie Branch, the jazz composer and trumpeter, has died aged 39. International Anthem, the progressive Chicago label that released her music, confirmed that she died on 22 August at her home in Brooklyn, New York. No cause of death was shared.
“Jaimie was a daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, friend and teacher,” the label said in a statement. “She touched countless numbers of people with her music and spirit, both of which are fearless, truthful and beautiful, and will live on in hearts and ears for ever. Jaimie’s family asks not just for your thoughts and prayers but also for your action. Show your love and support for your family and friends and anyone who may be in need – just like Jaimie did for all of us.”
Branch was known for her fierce solo albums: she released Fly Or Die in 2017, described by the Chicago Reader as a “stunning quartet recording that knits together several threads in Branch’s music – laser-sharp improvisatory exploration, ebullient melodies and a deep feeling for groove”.
It was followed in 2019 by Fly Or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, recorded live at the London venues Total Refreshment Centre and Cafe Oto. It featured her vocals for the first time as she excoriated racism and border control and defended life’s misfits. “At its peak, Jaimie Branch’s trumpet playing has the feeling of a prelingual shriek, a cry out into the distance that intuits no response,” Guardian critic Ammar Kalia wrote of the album.
Branch was also a beloved and voracious collaborator, working with untold artists – among them the US bands TV on the Radio, Yo La Tengo and Spoon, Texas guitarist Eli Winter, International Anthem peers such as Ben LaMar Gay, Angel Bat Dawid and Tortoise’s Jeff Parker and British jazz musician Alabaster dePlume, who paid tribute to Branch on Instagram.
“Things were always more exciting when Jaimie was around, but also somehow tender – more real and down to earth, but also more grand and epic and noble,” wrote DePlume (AKA Gus Fairbairn). “My best times with her were in the future, I was looking forward to a life of knowing her more, and responding to her, and finding out who I can be in answer to the way she was.”
UK jazz outfit the Comet Is Coming, Philadelphia guitarist Chris Forsyth, DJ Gilles Peterson and Illinois guitarist Ryley Walker were also among the figures celebrating Branch’s life. “Jaimie Branch was insanely funny,” wrote Walker. “Like my brain is pink slime choking on air dying of laughter funny. Great memories. Jaimie ruled so fucking hard. Insane confidence on stage and delivered on it. Legend. Hurts a lot.”
Branch was born in New York on 17 June 1983 and started playing the trumpet aged nine. She moved to Chicago in her teens and began to explore the history of jazz, turned on by Miles Davis’s ’58 Sessions Featuring Stella by Starlight and later Ornette Coleman’s The Shape of Jazz to Come, although she also played trumpet and keyboards in a punk-ska band named Tusker.
She was kicked out of home as a teenager after accidentally burning down her house, and met a mentor, John McNeil, who encouraged her successful application to the New England Conservatory of Music. Branch returned to Chicago after graduation and became an in-demand local collaborator, organiser and sound engineer, playing in groups including Princess, Princess, Sherpa and Battle Cats.
“I liked the DIY-ness of it all,” she told Jazz Blues News. “There was literally a series almost every night of the week. Everyone was playing music at a super-high level but it wasn’t ego-driven. There was really a focus on the music … I was drawn to it in a physical, visceral way. I needed to be part of that scene.”
In 2012, she would pursue a master’s degree in jazz performance and founded a record label, Pionic Records, which released her music with the group Bomb Shelter. In 2014, she dropped out of her master’s, unable to fund the course, and later sought treatment for a seven-year addiction to heroin.
She had lived in Brooklyn since 2015. A compulsive voyager of her chosen instrument, Branch told Aquarium Drunkard that she was “always working on trying to get more and more extended techniques, just get deeper with it”, and cited German trumpeter Axel Dörner and saxophonist Evan Parker as influences on her style.
In that same interview, Branch was asked what she would like people to know about her music. “I want them to know that I mean every note that I play,” she responded.