Biréli Lagrène, a Jazz Guitar Powerhouse

Biréli Lagrène (born 4 September 1966) is a French jazz guitarist who came to prominence in the 1980s for his Django Reinhardt–influenced style. He often performs in jazz styles like swing and post-bop styles but has flirted also with jazz fusion.

Though he’s been around for a number of years, I’ve actually only heard of him in the last couple of years and I wish I had heard of him years sooner. I feel like I’ve missed out on this powerhouse of a player. Had I known of him earlier, I’m sure I would have dug into incorporating some of his approach into my playing. Better late than never, as they say.

Lagrène grew up in a musical family, so strong musical influences were already there in his early childhood. His father and grandfather were both guitarists, and he was raised in the gypsy guitar tradition. He started playing at age four or five and by seven 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.

During the next few years, Lagrène toured with legendarly guitarists and musicians (many of them influences of mine) Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucía, and John McLaughlin, and played with Benny Carter, Benny Goodman, and Stéphane Grappellii. He joined Larry Coryell and Vic Juris in New York City for a tribute to Reinhardt in 1984 and went on tour with Coryell and Philip Catherine. He also performed with Jaco Pastorius, Stanley Clarke, the Gil Evans Orchestra, Christian Escoudé, and Charlie Haden. In 1989 he performed in a duo with Stanley Jordan.

If you’re a developing guitarist, you owe it to yourself to listen to his playing, even if his style may not be one that you’re accustomed to listening to. There’s much to be gotten from opening up your musical tastes. Lagrène’s playing is sophisticated and his melodic prowess is fiery and explosive. Unlike many other guitarists that are advanced in technique and tend to play fast scale-like solos that seem to be mindless and random, his sense of melody is amazing and enjoyable to listen to. Enjoy the video clips posted here, they are truly a musical feast.