Become a member and get exclusive access to articles, live sessions and more!
Start Your Free Trial

Biréli Lagrène

Biréli Lagrène started out his musical career at such a high level that it would not have been surprising if the rest of his career had ended up being anticlimactic. However, his playing has remained brilliant and he has stretched out into many different areas. Born in 1966 to a gypsy family in Europe, he started playing guitar when he was 4. By the time he was 8, he had already learned to play many Django Reinhardt songs just like the master. He won a gypsy music festival when he was 12 and the following year recorded Route to Django. Lagrene continued playing in a similar fashion for a few years and had opportunities to share the bandstand with Stephane Grappelli, Benny Carter, Benny Goodman and Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen. By the time he was 18, Lagrene purposely worked to get away from the Reinhardt influence, searching for his own sound. He met Larry Coryell that year, started playing fusion, and recorded quite credibly with Jaco Pastorius in 1986. A few years later he turned to more swinging jazz but this time was playing hard bop versions of standards, hardly hinting at all at Django. He has since come to terms with his roots, and Lagrene alternates between performing in his own original style and playing gypsy swing. At the 2006 Montreal Jazz Festival, his spontaneous trio set with organist Joey DeFrancesco was one of the hits of the event. Lagrene has recently been appearing with his Gipsy Project, a setting that finds him playing swing standards, paying tribute to Reinhardt but also being creative in his own voice.