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Jaimie Branch, a trumpeter who combined punk ferocity with cutting-edge technology in her version of improvised music that earned her acclaim inside and outside the jazz world, died Monday night at her home in the Red Hook neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. The Chicago record label International Anthem, which released her music, announced her death. (A statement issued after consultation with the family did not provide a reason.) She is 39 years old.
Blanche can evoke a world of personal expression on her trumpet, sounding arrogant and fiery one moment, sleepy and brooding the next. On any stage, she always uses her trumpet to convey absolute, complete faith. One of the reasons she’s become a regular in the creative music world over the past decade is this daring spirit. By contrast, her demeanor is often ridiculously profane and ultra-casual, qualities she alludes to with her favorite nickname, jaimie breezy branch (without the capital letters).
She is a rising star who has amassed a global following and plenty of critical acclaim over the past five years, not least her work with the handsome and rugged chamber bands FLY or DIE. In addition to the trumpet and vocal branches, she also features bassist Jason Ajemian, drummer Chad Taylor and cellist Tomeka Reid or Lester St. Louis. NPR Music named FLY or DIE’s self-titled debut as one of the 50 Best Albums of 2017. (The band also asked me to make a personal list of the 10 best jazz acts of the year.) The sequel, FLY or DIE II: Birds of Paradise, was in the top 10 on NPR’s 2019 Jazz Critics Poll.
Trumpet isn’t the only tool in Branch’s arsenal of creative tools: she’s a skilled producer and electronic artist who, by the end, has dabbled fully in voice, speaking, and singing. As WBEZ’s Nereida Moreno reported in 2019, the branch focuses on the resurgence of nativist and racist ideologies under the title FLY or DIE II Genocide and Slavery, so let’s be realistic. “
Before she became widely known for any political stance, Blanche became popular in new music circles for the dynamic range and steady power of her trumpet playing. Back in 2007, she was a hit at the New York New Trumpet Music Festival (FONT Music) and has appeared several times since.
Chicago Trumpeter Jamie Branch Delivers Political Message on ‘FLY or DIE II’
“It gave us a lot of ideas about how the trumpet can engage with music in different ways,” FONT Music founder, trumpeter and songwriter Dave Douglas told NPR. “He had a vision to synthesize his inspirational voices and take them to a new level that no one thought was possible. This is a tragic loss for our community.”
These inspirations range from the whispered warmth of Chet Baker to the mischievous rumble of Lester Bowie. Like another major influencer, Bowie and Miles Davis, Branch was able to place her voice in the hustle and bustle of a confident band, breaking through and deep. A version of “Theme 002” recorded in Switzerland in early 2020 and later included on FLY or DIE LIVE, finds it rocking and weaving with the elastic variations of the dubbed beat before the beat dissolves into a free-form static. It’s a clear sublimation of Blanche’s style as an improviser, though it’s also just a low-key piece.
Born June 17, 1983, in Huntington, New York, Blanche grew up in a music education, partly inspired by her half-brother (10 years her senior). She started playing the piano at the age of 3 and devoted herself to the trumpet at the age of 9. Years later, she later recalled, it was clear that would be her calling.
When Jamie was 14, the Blanche family moved from Long Island to Wilmette, Illinois, a suburb north of Chicago. At the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, she studied with Charles Schluter, then principal trumpeter of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and experienced improvisers such as guitarist Joe Morris and trumpeter John McNeill. As a student at NEC, she also discovered the experimental tones of German trumpeter Axel Dörner, and quickly fell down the rabbit hole of extended techniques: rebreathing, polyphonic, spectral resonance, pure tone.
This burgeoning area of expertise served her well when she returned to Chicago, home to some of the most free-thinking composers and improvisers on the planet. Among her early champions was cellist Fred Lomborg-Holm, with whom she formed a trio. Soon after, she also met Ajemian, Reid and Taylor, as well as Chicago mainstays such as polyreed Ken Vandermark, drummer Frank Rosaly and flutist Nicole Mitchell.
Another move in 2012, a graduate program at Towson University, fueled some personal struggles: “Baltimore is a tough city to live in if you want to stop using heroin,” Blanche wrote in a 2017 article. The article tells Peter Magasak. For Chicago readers. Two years later, she left Townsend for a therapy program on Long Island and found her way to Brooklyn.
She met a new group of collaborators in New York, including tenor saxophonist James Brandon Lewis, drummer Mike Pride and guitarist Ava Mendoza. At the same time, she retains the Chicago energy in her music, most recently in an ambient improv duo called Anteloper, featuring offshoots of trumpet, electronic, percussion and vocals, with synth and Jason Naziry of Drums.