Like the rest of the world, Tuesday afternoon turned dark for us as news broke that trumpeter, bandleader, and composer jaimie branch had passed. A beam of light whose music with her band Fly or Die reignited jazz with new-breed ideas and energy, branch — whose nickname was breezy — emerged from the fertile Chicago jazz scene with a singular force, creating an entire breezy galaxy through her work myriad work in projects (per Discogs) Anteloper, Bullet Hell, Galactic Unity Ensemble, Keefe Jackson’s Project Project, Mofaya!, New Fracture Quartet, Predella Group, and Who Cares How Long You Sink.
We’re not going to pen a full appreciation here; Nate Chinen has already published a better one than we could write. Rather, we’ll offer a few portals into understanding why the jazz world has responded with such devastation. The below clip is an introduction to her approach.
Here’s an interview with branch from 2008 in which she talks about her trumpet, her playing style, and her ideas on expression. It also features an early set with her leading a trio at the Hideout in Chicago.
“She brought us so many insights into how the trumpet could engage in the music differently,” composer-trumpeter Dave Douglas told Chinen in his appreciation. “She had a vision for synthesizing the voices of her inspirations and taking them to new levels no one had thought possible. It’s a tragic loss for our community.”
Below, branch’s stellar track “Love Song for Assholes and Clowns.” She and band repeat the title phrase as if it’s a Zen koan.
International Anthem served as branch’s main amplifier; her Fly or Die records helped establish the Chicago label as a global jazz force. The short documentary below offers an overview of branch’s genius, underscoring the profound loss many of us are feeling this morning.
branch’s inspirations, wrote Chinen, “covered a spectrum, from the murmuring warmth of Chet Baker to the mischievous blare of Lester Bowie. Like Bowie and Miles Davis, another key influence, branch knew how to place her sound within the tumult of an assertive band, sometimes cutting through and sometimes burrowing in.”
Here’s a full Fly or Die set recorded by Constellation Chicago.