“She was my older sister, my first teacher, my first friend, my first fight, my last fight. She was my everything. She was the bravest person I knew, on and off the stage. And life just seems too quiet now.”
That’s Jaime Branch’s sister, Kate, at the end of an NPR obit. I didn’t know Jaime but I loved her record with the pigeons on the cover and it was a trip to watch her play. Prototypically, a trumpeter is tall and thin, a little like the instrument itself. Branch wasn’t that. She didn’t dress like a jazzer either but more like a hiphop kid. Her music was all over the place. Tuneful one second, blaring the next. A wide spectrum of sound but always alert and engaged. Even the quiet moments had an intensity. There was a gig at the Rainbo a few years back where I could just see her enough over the crowd to make a sketch.
When people die young there’s a whole thesaurus of phrases that gets hauled out. Gone too soon/Before her time/Now with the angels/Too good for this world/etc etc. These things are meaningless. A hollow comfort for survivors and grievers. I guess it’s safe to say Branch’s wasn’t a ‘natural’ death, whatever that is. When a 39-year-old musician with a history of smack addiction passes it’s not hard to connect the dots. There’s been no official cause of death given but hard living probably played a part. It’s a cliché for gifted creative people to be swallowed by offstage habits. The trouble is that nothing offstage can match the high on stage. It makes the 22 or 23 other hours every day torture.
I don’t know for sure if that’s what took Jaime. It doesn’t matter. She’s gone but her music’s still here. I listened to her record three times in a row this morning. It’s the only way I know to pay tribute. She stuck around as long as she could. Her time here wasn’t wasted.