Biréli Lagrène is a French jazz guitarist who came to prominence in the 1980s for his Django Reinhardt–influenced style. He often performs in swing, jazz fusion, and post-bop styles.
Lagrène was born on 4 September 1966 in Saverne, Alsace, France, into a Romani family and community. His father and grandfather were guitarists, and he was raised in the gypsy guitar
tradition. He started playing at the age of four or five and by seven he was improvising jazz in a style similar to Django Reinhardt’s, whom his father admired and wanted his sons to emulate. In 1980, while in his early teens, he recorded his first album, Routes to Django: Live at the Krokodil (Jazzpoint,1981).
During his late teens, Lagrène’s musical taste began to evolve as he started playing electric guitar and absorbing players like Wes Montgomery, John McLaughlin, Larry Coryell, and Jimi Hendrix. In 1984, he appeared at the Django Reinhardt Tribute at Fat Tuesdays in New York, where he showcased his stylistically expansive sound. He signed to Blue Note and issued a handful of genre-crossing albums: 1988’s Inferno, 1989’s Foreign Affairs, and 1990’s Acoustic Moments. All of these albums found the guitarist exploring a mix of post-bop, fusion, and Reinhardt-style pieces. The straight-ahead Standards, with bassist Niels Pedersen and drummer Andre Ceccarelli, arrived in 1992. With 1995’s My Favorite Django, Lagrène returned to his love of traditional gypsy swing. Over the next decade, he made occasional forays into fusion, while continuing to balance his love of Django Reinhardt, straight-ahead jazz and bop influences. He also kept a steady live schedule, appearing live at Marciac in 1994 and at New York’s Blue Note in 1997 with Larry Coryell and Billy Cobham. In 1998, he issued the Frank Sinatra tribute Old Blues Eyes, with pianist Maurice Vander, bassist Chris Minh Doky, and drummer Ceccarelli. In 2002, he issued Gypsy Project, yet another album that found him returning to Reinhardt and the classic jazz songbook. Similar albums followed, including 2005’s Move, 2006’s Djangology, and 2007’s Just the Way You Are. A year later, he issued the fusion-influenced Electric Side.
He then paired with guitarist Hono Winterstein and bassist Diego Imbert for 2009’s Gipsy Trio. That same year, he also released his own Summertime. In 2012, he recorded straight-ahead jazz set for Universal entitled Mouvements with saxophonist Franck Wolf, drummer Jean-Marc Robin, and Hammond organist Jean-Yves Jung. Also in 2012, Lagrène was asked to participate in the 50th career anniversary celebration for violinist Jean-Luc Ponty, during which he appeared in a trio with Ponty and bassist Stanley Clarke. Inspired by their chemistry on stage that night, the trio stayed in touch, and in 2015 paired again for the studio album D-Stringz on Impulse! In 2018, the guitarist issued Storyteller, featuring bassist Larry Grenadier and percussionist Mino Cinélu.