The Hot Club of Cowtown is a hot jazz/western swing trio, comprising Elana James (formerly Fremerman) (vocals, violin), Whit Smith (vocals, guitar), and double bass player Jake Erwin. They also sing in three-part harmony.
The band's name comes from two sources: "Hot Club" from the hot jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli's Hot Club of France, and "Cowtown" from the western influence of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys and the band's love of fiddle tunes, hoedowns, and songs of the American west.
Smith (from Cape Cod, Massachusetts) and James (Prairie Village, Kansas) originally met through an ad in the classified music section of The Village Voice in 1994, and played together in New York City before relocating to San Diego in 1997, where they spent a year playing for tips and building up their repertoire. By 1998, they relocated to Austin, Texas, and in 2000 added Jake Erwin (originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma) on bass.
The band split in 2005, though they reunited for occasional shows in 2006-07, including the Fuji Rock Festival and a tour of Australia as Elana James & The Hot Club of Cowtown, in 2007. Whit Smith performed as Whit Smith's Hot Jazz Caravan, based in Austin, Texas. Elana toured with Bob Dylan in 2005. Changing her last name to James, Elana began performing with her own trio in late 2005. Smith and James resumed playing together full time in 2006. By early 2008 the Hot Club of Cowtown had officially re-formed.
The Hot Club's first album, 1998's Swingin' Stampede is a collection of standards, fiddle tunes, and classic Western Swing songs, including two written by Bob Wills. Their 1999 follow-up album, Tall Tales, includes original songs from Smith and James, including Darling You And I Are Through by James, and Emily and When I Lost You by Smith, as well as more Western Swing standards by Bob Wills, Pee Wee King, and others. Later albums continued to mix classic Western Swing and hot jazz, with originals in the same style; including the studio albums, Ghost Train (2002) and Wishful Thinking (2009). Their 2011 album What Makes Bob Holler was a tribute to Bob Wills. The disc includes obscure B-sides with some of Wills' most popular work, including Big Balls in Cowtown and Stay a Little Longer, Osage Stomp and The Devil Ain't Lazy.
In January and February 2011, they toured with Roxy Music as the opening act on Roxy's UK leg of their For Your Pleasure tour.
The band's most recent album, "Rendezvous in Rhythm" (Gold Strike Records, 2013) is a collection of hot jazz standards and gypsy instrumentals played acoustically in the style of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli (The Quintette of the Hot Club of France). The Hot Club of Cowtown released a live DVD, "Continental Dance Party," in 2012 which was filmed at the Continental Club Gallery in Austin, Texas. In 2013 the band was nominated for the first-ever Ameripolitan Music Awards, held in Austin, Texas in 2014, in the Best Western Swing Group category.
Festivals/career highlights include the Women in Jazz series (part of Jazz at Lincoln Center), the Cambridge Folk Festival (UK), the Glastonbury Festival (UK), the Fuji Rock Festival (Japan), Byron Bay Blues & Roots Festival (AU), the National Folk Festival (US and AU), the Stagecoach Festival, the Winnipeg Folk Festival (CA), Waiting for Waits Festival (SP), the grand opening of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee, The Barns at Wolf Trap, the Rochester Jazz Festival, the Strawberry Festival, the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, traveling as US State Department Musical Ambassadors to Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia, being inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame, and tours with Bob Dylan,Willie Nelson, the Squirrel Nut Zippers, and The Mavericks.
The Hot Club of Cowtown has been featured on television on Later With Jools Holland and the Jools Holland New Year's Eve Hootenanny (UK), $40 a Day with Rachael Ray (US), The Grand Ole Opry (US), BBC Live From Glastonbury broadcast (UK), Good Morning Azerbaijan. Film credits for songs include indie films Four Dead Batteries and In Search of a Midnight Kiss. United States radio appearances include Mountain Stage, eTown, World Cafe, A Prairie Home Companion,All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Sirius Satellite, and XM Satellite.