Most of these tracks are pretty chill. More to the point, though, they’re tracks that I like to chill to. Some of them are tracks that meant a lot to me a long time ago; some of them are things that I’m listening to right now. Some of them are really pushing the bounds in some respects. But if there’s any one common thread that runs through all of them, it’s just an awesome brass sound. — Jaimie Branch
Booker Little, trumpet
At the Five Spot (Prestige, 1961)
“Aggression” is maybe the all-time best document of Booker Little, who was a contemporary of Clifford Brown’s and influenced by him—but took the trumpet to another place. Booker’s sound is more biting, and he also had a more linear, melodically based message than Brownie. “Aggression” is one of the last documents of Booker: Shortly after this recording he passed away at the age of 23.
Colón and Willie Campbell, trombones
The Big Break – La Gran Fuga (Fania, 1970)
My mother is Colombian, and this tune is one of her favorites—a shout-out to some of the big cities in Colombia. So it holds a happy emotional high for me. But in addition, this Nuyorican thing that was happening at that time is a beautiful example of trombone section playing. Willie Colón was a great musician and kind of had that “Latin gangster” look, way ahead of the curve.
Ben LaMar Gay
“Miss Nealie Burns”
Downtown Castles Can Never Block the Sun (International Anthem, 2018)
Matthew Lux’s Communication Arts Quartet
Contra/Fact (Astral Spirits, 2018)
These two tracks both feature my good friend, the cornetist Ben LaMar Gay, who is having a moment right now. The tune from his record is an incredible sonic landscape, and Ben’s playing on it shows what a storyteller he is—that’s something he really values, as a player and as a composer. His version of “practicing” composition, the way I “practice” trumpet, is to write fully developed pieces. The other track, by Matt Lux, features Ben on trumpet. Not only is the solo dope but at the end you hear something you don’t often hear, which is trumpet comping. When you’re a trumpet player you’re expected to be out front, but Ben meshes the foreground with the background when he comps like that. It’s not often you find someone so adept at both of those roles.
Sly and the Family Stone
“Don’t Call Me Nigger, Whitey”
Cynthia Robinson, trumpet
Stand! (Epic, 1969)
Cynthia Robinson is the baddest bitch of all: the female lead trumpet player in Sly and the Family Stone, the best funk-soul band of that time. It’s the late ’60s, he has a mixed-race-and-gender band, and they slay. The tune gets weird in the middle, which I always really liked about it, and there’s a breakdown where Cynthia starts climbing up all the way to the top of the horn. I don’t even know what that top note is!
She Was Too Good to Me (CTI, 1974)
This is the second or third solo I ever learned—I was a student trying to learn bebop and I couldn’t do it, so a teacher said, “Hey, check this out.” Chet was the beginning for me of developing that melodic language and sensibility. I just love this solo, and there’s also that beautiful Rhodes playing by Bob James.
Chicago Underground Duo
“Blue Sparks from Her, and the Scent of Lightning”
Rob Mazurek, cornet
Synesthesia (Thrill Jockey, 2000)
I listened to this record a lot in my late high-school years. Rob makes a big entrance in this tune, with a Harmon mute like Dizzy, that really reaches. It soars over the landscape that they’ve laid out. Being from Chicago, Rob was a big influence on me—he’s also playing the Moog on this and it opened me up to the idea of using electronics and effects in jazz.
Art Ensemble of Chicago
“A Jackson in Your House”
Lester Bowie, trumpet
A Jackson in Your House (BYG/Actuel, 1969)
Lester Bowie is a major influence of mine, but the whole ensemble is doing something special here. This song is actually two songs in one; it starts and ends with the same tune, and then the middle is a different tune. And the space that they’re able to leave! This is one of the highest examples of simmering energy with low volume. The silences get amplified, and when the group comes in playing these dense passages, they really get highlighted.
Jerry Freeman, trumpet
Aquemini (LaFace, 1998)
Talk about brass chillers! This has one of the most iconic trumpet lines of my childhood; when I was in high school, my best friend would have me play it all the time. It feels like the line itself is its own microcosm, and that’s what makes it become iconic: You don’t need to hear anything else around it to understand what’s going on.
[As told to Michael J. West]
Listen to a Spotify playlist featuring most of the tracks mentioned above:
Jaimie Branch is a trumpeter who has lived and worked for extended periods in Chicago, Baltimore, and New York. Artists with whom she has played include Jeff Parker, Ken Vandermark, Nate McBride, and the rock bands Spoon, TV on the Radio, and Belle Orchestre. Her debut album as a leader, Fly or Die, was released by International Anthem in 2017.