New York City-based free jazz composer, trumpeter and vocalist jaimie branch died at her home in Red Hook, Brooklyn, at 9:21 p.m. ET on Monday, Aug. 22, her label International Anthem announced on Wednesday morning. Her cause of death was not disclosed. She was just 39 years old.
“Her family, friends and community are heart broken,” International Anthem’s statement continues:
jaimie was a daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, friend and teacher; 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 forever. 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.
Born June 17, 1983, on Long Island, New York, jaimie breezy branch first picked up a trumpet at age nine. “I was deciding between saxophone and trumpet, and I had these sign-up sheets from school for both,” branch told the Chicago Reader in 2017. “My family went out to Dave’s Italian Kitchen that night, and I spilled my dad’s red wine all over the saxophone sheet and all over his white shirt. And so I played the trumpet.”
She studied music at Boston’s New England Conservatory of Music and Baltimore’s Towson University, leading bands and ensembles in Chicago, New York City and Baltimore, and becoming a fixture of the Chicago free jazz scene, in particular, along the way. But she also struggled with heroin addiction, for which she sought treatment in 2015.
From there, branch moved to Brooklyn, where she made her presence felt on the NYC jazz scene. The Chicago-based International Anthem would release her debut album as a bandleader, Fly or Die in 2017, followed by 2019 sequel Fly or Die II: Bird Dogs of Paradise and 2021 live album FLY or DIE LIVE. She also collaborated with countless artists, releasing two records with Jason Nazary as Anteloper, another with Jakob Kart and Theodore Representerer as Bullet Hell, and playing on many more. Trying to sum up all of branch’s musical pursuits is sort of like trying to drink the ocean.
“[When I write] I’m not so much like, ‘This is exactly what I need,’ because I’ve learned over the years that the thing I envision is only one version,” branch told Bandcamp Daily of her approach to songwriting in 2018. “There could be another version that’s even more incredible than what I’m imagining, and I try to leave room for that to happen.”
Social media is awash with heartfelt tributes to branch, but Chicago singer/songwriter Ryley Walker seems to sum up the sentiment best, tweeting, “I love you Jaimie Branch forever.”
Watch branch perform with her Fly or Die quartet and discuss her craft in a documentary of the same name (dir. Mark Pallman) below.