Biréli Lagrène

Since the 1980s, Biréli Lagrène has been the undisputed king of jazz guitar.

In the early 80s, Biréli was a child prodigy who developed his craft into an art. His story begins in 1966 in Saverne, France, in the Alsace region – the heart of the gypsy community. Biréli was born into a family of musicians; where he was introduced to the guitar at an early age by his father, then by his brother. Biréli was first spotted by Matelot Ferré, Django Reinhardt’s companion.

During those early years, Biréli was heavily influenced by Django. He was inspired by the master’s choruses, listening to his records repeatedly, trying at first to remake what he heard before finding his own style. We hear this unique style in Biréli’s first albums: “Routes to Django,” released in 1980, “Bireli Swing ’81” (1981), and then “Fifteen” (1982). A sort of trilogy in the form of a “free manifesto,” according to the etymology of the word “manouche” (“free man”). So jazz, for Bireli, is mixed with primordial freedom, “a freedom that has no limits…” “Django helped me to go and see what is happening elsewhere,” he says.

Biréli was influenced by Django, Wes Montgomery, and George Benson, and soon, Biréli turned to fusion jazz in the style of Jaco Pastorius and Weather Report.

From 1986 onwards, Biréli, who collaborated with Stéphane Grappelli and Larry Coryell, embarked on the adventure of fusion, deepening his experience and encounters. Biréli even hesitated about which instrument to adopt (under the influence of Pastorius, Biréli had become a formidable bassist). He finally settled on the guitar for a period of research, where he forged a dazzling style, showing exceptional faculties of adaptation supported by a talent for improvisation, placing him among the greatest. Multiple collaborations ensue. Biréli finds himself alongside John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucia, Al Di Meola, Jack Bruce, Ginger Baker (for a temporary reformation of Cream), Stanley Clarke, Miroslav Vitous, Lenny White, and Mike Stern. This impressive list doesn’t even include the two live albums that Bireli recorded with Jaco Pastorius.

In 1990, the album “Acoustic Moments” is a beautiful synthesis of style. Walking the tightrope between traditional jazz and fusion. Then, Biréli finds the sweet spot as well as critical acclaim by playing the “classic” card with “Standards” (1992).

As Biréli’s “Viaggio” (1993) hit the streets, it coincides with his ever-increasing recognition on the national and international scenes. Biréli won the coveted “Django d’Or” (The Golden Django) in 1993, and in 2001 “Victoires de la Musique” (the equivalent of a Grammy in the US and awarded by the French Ministry of Culture to recognize outstanding achievement in the music industry) for “Front Page” (2000). A “power trio” formed with Dominique Di Piazza and Dennis Chambers, who recorded for Universal, crowning the success and popularity of the “Gipsy Project” (2001).

At 35 years old, after having played on almost every front of the modern guitar, after having interacted with some of the finest jazz musicians worldwide, Biréli Lagrene, wild and subtle, quick as a flash, decided to take up with the music of his origins by risking an incredible bet between virtuosity and depth. “Gipsy Project & Friends” (2002) happily celebrate with unaffected spontaneity while anchoring himself in a tradition that Biréli, at the top of his art, has at his fingertips.

Still in the tradition of gypsy jazz, Biréli released the album “Move” in 2004, which has the peculiarity of replacing the violin with a saxophone. Striking repertoire. Dazzling swing. The album is masterful. As success grew, Biréli toured the biggest festivals with his Gipsy Project until his triumph at the Olympia in 2005. This recording also featured the special guest guitar of Sylvain Luc.

In October 2006, to celebrate the 40th birthday of this outstanding musician, Dreyfus Jazz published an exceptional double CD: “Djangology” (with the Köln WDR Big Band) and “To Bi or Not To Bi” (solo recording).

These last 17 years – crowned by a 2012 “Medal of Chevalier des Arts et des Lettres” (recognition of significant contributions to the arts) – will see Biréli release thirteen albums, including “The Alternative,” alongside Jimmy Rosenberg and Angelo Debarre, with Stanley Clarke and Jean-Luc Ponty for an inspired “D-Stringz,” with Rony Lakatos on the magnificent “Tribute to Stéphane & Django,” with André Charlier and Benoît Sourisse on “Remembering Jaco” and solo on the superb “Solo Suites” released in 2022.

In 2023, Biréli Lagrène released in trio with Hono Winterstein (rhythm guitar) and Diego Imbert (double bass) a side project, “Biréli Lagrène plays Loulou Gasté,” a superb songbook dedicated to the repertoire of one of the most important authors of the golden age of French song, Louis Gasté.

Biréli continues with his music today, not style defined, but rather honoring his roots.

Visit his website here.