I was living in D.C. when [bassist] Jason Ajemian’s band the High Life came through, and I put together a show for them. Jaimie was in the band and we hit it off immediately. She moved to Baltimore shortly after that and that’s when we really started to get close. It felt like a parallel mutual development within the music, something that was conducive to a great partnership. When she eventually moved to New York, she would always bring me up and I would bring her down whenever we could.
We had mutual goals and perspectives on music and on community, so we were very much comrades. We had deep conversations on many levels about the music and where it was going, all the scenes that she was plugged into, all the cool stuff that she was doing in Alaska.
I think about her every day. She could light up a room with her presence, and that translated into her music. Her voice was distinctive, and she was going to be unapologetically her—and she was going to be heard. You were going to pay attention to what she had to say, on the horn and otherwise. She was excited all the time about music; she never lost sight of the aspect of having fun, while also doing something important. She loved being in the mix, she was always passionate, and she was always grateful for the opportunity of being a musician and making a strong impact. She would never complain: If something was wrong, she would definitely let you know, but she would never complain.
One of the biggest lessons is that it’s our job to live in the best way that we can, right now. That’s what Jaimie wanted us to do. She was constantly reaching towards being able to do whatever it is that you want to do in this music. You don’t have to play any games in terms of what you think people like or what people are telling you to play.
I hope that those in the musical community that were touched by Jaimie can take that lesson to heart most of all: To be fearless, to be bold, and, if you’re on a track, to get off the track and chart your own path, and to really examine what it is that you’re doing. Examining the fact that she went to NEC. Examining the fact that she’s a woman, and a straight woman. Playing this music in the way that she’s playing it and doing so boldly and proudly.
Of course it was heartbreaking and devastating when she passed so suddenly. It still is. And it wasn’t just me. A lot of people loved Jaimie, and she loved a lot of people: They know who they are. She was very much a pillar in the community. Her presence on the scene is deeply missed.
And what’s important is her legacy. I hope that she’s remembered as a maverick in the music—but also for having reverence for the tradition, for the rigor required in listening and knowing the history of the music, which she very much did. She understood the need to be involved in the community, to be there for people and to look out for them. Jaimie being a strong personality and a strong player meant that a lot of people looked to her for guidance or for inspiration, and she was happy to provide it. We’ve lost a champion.
I hope that people will follow the Jaimie Branch Foundation that her family is setting up. And I hope that the work and the community that she was a part of, and that was a part of her, will continue in her memory. Jaimie was conscious of the importance of making your own music, of making sure that it’s heard, and she always showed the way to do that. She’s still showing it now. [As told to Michael J. West]