When Someone Great Is Gone: Jaimie ‘Breezy’ Branch 1983-2022

Jaimie Branch dos
JAIMIE BRANCH: A Celebration of Life is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 26, 2022 at Brooklyn’s Pioneer Works.

“You are glorious.”

Those were my last words exchanged with the late, great Jaimie “Breezy” Branch, a gifted musician, composer and performer, who so very tragically passed away at age of 39 on Aug. 21, 2022.  She was, in recent years, one of the most inspiring and exciting performers to catch live. 

I emailed her in late July to ask for a photo for an opening Pollstar essay entitled “All That Jazz: An American Art Form Hits Another Beautiful Gear.” The introduction to our jazz themed issue, with Robert Glasper on the cover, gushed over today’s exciting jazz music scene which, of course, included Jaimie. She was constantly on my mind as we compiled the issue. I thought for sure we would put her on a future cover.

The same issue also featured an interview with Ashley Capps, the great music promoter out of Knoxville, Tenn., who has long championed adventurous music at venues in the Southeastern U.S. and festivals like Bonnaroo and Big Ears. In the interview, without prompting, Capps namechecked Branch and her International Anthem label and mentioned seeing her group Fly or Die and a show with musician/poet Alabaster DePlume during a conversation on the surfeit of incredible jazz music and musicians currently on the scene. 

I was lucky, then, over the last year to twice witness this wildly dynamic, out-of-the-box and virtuosic artist. She predominantly played trumpet but was also adept on keyboards, synth, samples and vocals. Her expansive and liberating attack meant that at any given moment anything could happen. 

I inhaled Branch’s brilliance in full-force last summer on the first day of an ambitious two-day show, each running for hours, at IRL, a tri-level art space in Brooklyn’s Greenpoint. Two friends had thankfully recommended the show. She co-billed with the equally phenomenal Angel Bat Dawid and a slew of other excellent musicians who, for hours on end, made music that mutated and morphed in a kaleidoscope of genres from jazz to electronic, noise to gospel, techno to soul and so much other sublime sound. 

The space and the various permutations that players could subdivide into, unrestricted by traditional stage or format limitations, led to unbridled sonic creativity, collaboration and what sounded like liberation. For hours maybe a trio upstairs or an octet below would play independently, might combine forces or just run their course while vibing off each other and the crowd of maybe 200. It was exhilarating. 

Jaimie Branch with Fly or Die
THE LATE, GREAT JAIMIE BRANCH with her Fly Or Die quartet featuring Jason Ajemian, Chad Taylor, and Lester St. Louis. Photo by Peter Gannushkin

Then, this past June while visiting family, I lucked-out again seeing “Breezy” perform in D.C. with Anteloper, her electronic duo with Jason Nazary. The venue, Rhizome DC, looked condemned with a government notice on its dilapidated front door. Part community house, performance space and maybe a squat, if you weren’t in the main living room where musicians performed, you had to look through walls seemingly down to their studs. 

This thankfully wasn’t Lincoln Center or your daddy’s jazz club. There was little to no separation between musician and audience, no drink minimums, no shhh’ing, no double-digit beer prices. This was down and dirty and how live music should be experienced: for a small rapt audience there for the music.

Taking a break in the backyard during the warm-up, I spotted Jaimie in the parking lot. I walked over to tell her how much I enjoyed her IRL show the year before and mentioned a mutual friend, which elicited an instant smile. “That’s my boy,” she said. She was warm and kind. I didn’t want to be a sycophant and disrupt her flow so I thanked her and let her get ready for her performance.

Once again, it was wondrous as this duo, too, tore down the barriers, creating endless song possibilities with electronic music and jazz, ambience and noise with her powerful trumpet along with tripped-out samples and visuals and sometimes Jaimie’s incredibly sweet voice. It was another phenomenal live experience.

Afterward, I told her how much I had loved the show, sent her a Venmo for Anteloper’s excellent Pink Dolphins album on pink vinyl and then said goodbye. 

Her email back included the two wonderful photos here and asked us to make sure to credit the photographer (Peter Gannushkin). Then she signed off “Word up.”