Jamie Branch, trumpeter and lauded musician, dies at 39: NPR

jaimie branch, who died on Monday, August 22 at 39, performs with her group FLY or DIE in 2020 in New York.

Jonathan Chimene

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Jonathan Chimene

jaimie branch, who died on Monday, August 22 at 39, performs with her group FLY or DIE in 2020 in New York.

Jonathan Chimene

Jamie Branch, a trumpeter who combined punk brutality with advanced technique in his version of improvised music, earned well-deserved praise within jazz circles, died Monday night at his home in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, NY. happened. Was declared By International Anthem, the Chicago-based label that released her music. (No reason was given in the statement given in consultation with her family.) She was 39 years old.

Branch can conjure up a world of personal expression with its trumpet, sharp and gaudy at one moment, foggy and contemplative the next. She was always in full body confidence in whatever she conveyed, in any setting, with her horn. This sense of gruesome intensity was part of the reason she became the beloved linchpin of the creative music community over the past decade. Her demeanor, by comparison, was often hilariously profane and ethereal—qualities she alluded to with a favorite moniker, the Jamie Breezy branch (no hat).

She was a rising star, earning a worldwide following over the past five years and no shortage of critical acclaim, most notably for her work with a charmingly rough-and-tumble band such as Chambers, FLY or DIE. Along with Branch on trumpet and vocals, it featured Jason Azemian on bass, Chad Taylor on drums, and Toméka Reid or Lester St. Louis on cello. NPR Music has recognized FLY or DIE’s self-titled debut as one of Top 50 Albums of 2017, (the group also made my personal list Top 10 Jazz Performances in that year). forward link, Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise, landed in the top 10 2019 NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll,

The trumpet wasn’t the only instrument in Branch’s creative arsenal: she was a skilled producer and electronic artist, and had recently gone head to head in vocal, spoken, and sung voices. Nereida Moreno of WBEZ. In form of informed of In 2019, the branch focused on the resurgence of nativist and racist ideologies with “Prayers for America”. Fly or Die II So given the title because, as he told Moreno at the time, “this country was really based on genocide and slavery, so let’s be real about it.”

Before she became widely known for any political stance, Shakha was respected in new-music circles for the dynamic range and ground power of her trumpet playing. She was a welcome appearance at the festival of New Trumpet Music (Font Music) in New York, which presented her in early 2007, and on several occasions since then.

“He brought us so much insight into how the trumpet could engage in music differently,” trumpeter and composer Dave Douglas, founder of FONT Music, tells NPR. “He had a vision to synthesize the voices of his inspirations and take them to new levels that no one could have imagined. It’s a sad loss to our community.”

Those inspirations covered a spectrum, from the grumbling heat of Chet Baker to the mischievous glow of Lester Bowie. Like Bowie and Miles Davis, another major influence, Branch knew how to place his voice within the cacophony of a vocal band, sometimes cut and sometimes entrenched. A version of “Theme 002” was recorded in Switzerland in early 2020, and was later included. Feather fly or die live, the beat finds its bobbing and weaving against springy variations on the dub rhythm before dissolving into freeform static. It’s a clean distillation of Branch’s style as an improviser, though it’s just a different piece.


Born on June 17, 1983, in Huntington, NY, Branch grew up in a musically friendly environment, partly inspired by the example of her half-brother, a decade her senior. He started playing the piano at the age of 3 and played the trumpet by the age of 9. Within a few years, she later recalled, it was clear that this would be her calling.

The Branch family moved from Long Island to the northern suburbs of Chicago – Willamette, Ill. When Jamie was 14 years old. At the New England Conservatory in Boston, she studied with Charles Schlueter, then also the principal trumpeter in the Boston Symphony Orchestra. As did veteran improvisers such as guitarist Joe Morris and trumpeter John McNeill. As a student at the NEC, she also explored the experimental sound palette of German trumpeter Axel Dörner, falling immediately down the rabbit hole of extended technology: circular breathing, multiphonics, spectral resonance, fields of pure sound.

This growing area of ​​expertise served Branch well when she returned to Chicago, home to some of the most free-thinking musician-improvers on the planet. Among her early champions was cellist Fred Lonberg-Holm, with whom she formed a trio. Before long she had met Ajamian, Reid and Taylor as well as Chicago mainstays such as multi-reedist Ken Vandermark, drummer Frank Rosalie and flutist Nicole Mitchell.

Another move in 2012, to study in the graduate program at Towson University, escalated some personal struggles: “Baltimore is a tough city to make if you want to quit doing heroin,” Branch told Peter Margsak. a 2017 article for Chicago reader. She dropped out of Towson after two years, enrolled in a treatment program on Long Island, and found her way to Brooklyn.

She fell in New York with a new crop of collaborators, including tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, drummer Mike Pride and guitarist Ava Mendoza. At the same time, she preserved Chicago energy in her music—most recently in an ambient-improv duo called Antelopeer, which includes branching out on trumpet, electronics, percussion, and vocals, with Jason Nazzari on synthesizer and drums.


This spring, after pandemic restrictions were loosened enough for the tour to resume, the branch took FLY or DIE back on the road. One of those dates was at the Ruba Club in Philadelphia, presented by the non-profit Ars Nova Workshop. “Jamie used his music as an incredible tool to connect the creative and the important,” ANW executive and artistic director Mark Christman told NPR. “And he harnessed that creative, improvised, DIY tool that every great jazz artist uses for this: envisioning alternative futures, addressing trauma, maintaining resilience.”

Behind Branch is his mother, Sally Branch; a sister, Kate Branch; two brothers, Russell and Clark Branch; And nieces and nephews. “Of all the people Jamie touched, I am the luckiest, because I have known life only with Jamie and his music,” writes Kate Branch, whose loft at Red Hook served as the unlikely recording studio. fly or Die, “She was my big sister, my first teacher, my first friend, my first fight, my last fight. She was my everything. She was the bravest person I knew on and off stage. And life just seems so quiet.” . “

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