Life — particularly within the world of music — is not fair. Some of the best stories end long before they should.
Jaimie “Breezy” Branch — a trumpeter, vocalist, composer, and the most decent of human beings — should be well on her way to being one of her generation’s most important figures in jazz and electronic music. She had a lot to say and more than a couple of ways to say it. In a just world, we would be hearing her talented voice for years to come.
Instead, she passed away in her Brooklyn home on August 23 at the age of 39.
As of this writing, there are no additional details available to explain what happened. And to be perfectly honest, it doesn’t matter. All we need to know is that a great talent has been lost, and our world is lesser because of it.
I came to know Breezy’s music the way I came to learn a great deal of my modern “discoveries”: I found her completely by accident. Breezy is part of the International Anthem Recording Company stable, a Chicago-based record label bursting at the seams with musical talent. So while I explored the likes of Jeff Parker, Rob Mazurek, and Makaya McCraven, I stumbled over this young trumpet player and her latest recording FLY OR DIE II: bird dogs of paradise. The second cut, “prayer for amerikkka, part 1&2,” really put the hook in me.
Clearly, this woman was aware of what was happening outside her musical universe, and she had a few things to say about it. Those words got my attention.
Then I started paying attention to her trumpet playing. Her tone was nothing short of staggering. There is no doubting her technical proficiency, but Breezy also had that which any musician aspires to, but doesn’t necessarily achieve: she had soul. That’s when I knew she had to be part of my personal musical world.
I have enjoyed both of Breezy’s FLY OR DIE recordings, which veer toward jazz, and her electronic-based recordings with her other project, Anteloper. This was one very creative musician, and someone I knew I wanted to interview!
I got to see Breezy perform live at the Constellation in Chicago. Our initial meeting was a bit awkward, and it was no one’s fault but mine. When I arrived at the venue, she and her band were sitting out in the bar having dinner. She saw me when I walked in and gave me a look of recognition (I had already reviewed her album and hyped her on my Facebook page). The last person I expected to see upon entering a concert venue is the artist, so I pretty much looked right through her in my quest to find the doorman. Only shortly after getting a drink and taking a seat at the bar did I realize who was looking at me.
I apologized to Breezy at the show and again before our interview. She laughed it off both times. She was thoughtful and introspective, to say nothing of wise beyond her years. There was no doubting how much music meant to her. But the outside world was equally — if not more — important to her. I couldn’t help but admire her.
Upon learning of her death, I wrote this on Breezy’s Facebook wall and a couple of other places:
Jaimie Branch was the real deal. I suspected it when I first heard her play and confirmed it when we met IRL. She had a way about her that spoke to her sincerety and passion for both music and the world around her. Better still, she had the courage of her convictions. People like her are always a joy to meet. You always look forward to meeting them again.
When I interviewed her, we had an open and frank discussion for a few minutes before the formal chat started, then for almost an hour afterward. I have no doubt we were well on our way to being friends. Jaimie is one of those people you don’t forget. The world is a better place for her brief time in it.
Rest easy, Breezy. Thanks for your gifts. You will be missed.
Here’s Jaime “Breezy” Branch and our CirdecSongs interview.
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