The Hot Club of Cowtown

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The Hot Club of Cowtown
Origin New York City
United States
Genres Ameripolitan, Western swing, hot jazz
Years active 1998–present
Labels Concord-Rounder, Shout Factory, HighTone, Gold Strike, Proper
Members Elana James
Whit Smith
Jake Erwin
Past members TC Cyran Billy Horton

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[1] 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.

Hot Club of Cowtown at Blue Mountains Music Festival in Australia, March 2008.

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.

In 2016, the Hot Club of Cowtown released its ninth studio album, Midnight on the Trail (Gold Strike Records), a vintage mix of 12 Western swing songs and cowboy ballads "hand-collected to reflect the spirit and joy of the American West," including traditional songs as well as works by Cindy Walker, Gene Autry, Bob Wills, Johnny Mercer, and more. The band's previous release, "Rendezvous in Rhythm" (Gold Strike Records, 2013) was 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. The band was nominated again for the Ameripolitan Music Awards the following year (2015) and won Western Swing Group of the Year, as Elana James won Western Swing Female of the year. "Often people at our shows, old-timers from West Texas, will come up and tell us that what they really like is those old-time Gypsy songs. This was the antidote to our western swing CD. Our band is better known as a western swing act, and even though western swing included all kinds of jazzy bluesy idioms from back in the day, the western and country part of it are so prominent that it tends to overshadow the purely jazzy European side of the style," said James.[2]

Festivals/career highlights include the Women in Jazz series (part of Jazz at Lincoln Center), the Cambridge Folk Festival (UK), the Glastonbury Festival (UK),[3] 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, the Republic of Georgia, and the Sultanate of Oman, and being inducted into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame. The Hot Club of Cowtown has toured with Bob Dylan,[3] Willie Nelson,[3] the Squirrel Nut Zippers, The Mavericks, Dan Hicks, Gatemouth Brown, The Avett Brothers, Bryan Ferry and others.

The Hot Club of Cowtown has been featured on television on Larry's Country Diner, 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.

Live DVDs[edit]

  • 2012 Continental Dance Party


2016 Midnight On The Trail Gold Strike
2013 Rendezvous in Rhyth Gold Strike. Dist. by Proper Music in the UK
2011 What Makes Bob Holler Proper Records
2009 Wishful Thinking Gold Strike
2008 The Best of The Hot Club of Cowtown Shout!Factory
2005 Four Dead Batteries (Soundtrack) HighTone
2003 Continental Stomp HighTone
2002 Ghost Train HighTone
2002 Hot Jazz (Japan only) Buffalo
2002 Hot Western (Japan only) Buffalo
2000 Dev’lish Mary HighTone
1999 Tall Tales HighTone
1998 Swingin' Stampede HighTone

Individual media by band members:

  • On The Nature Of Strings (2014) Solo CD by Whit Smith
  • Chordination (2008) Instructional DVD by Whit Smith
  • Chordination Vol. 2 (2011) Instructional DVD by Whit Smith
  • Chordination Vol. 3 (2016) Instructional DVD by Whit Smith
  • Hell Among the Hedgehogs (2011) EP feat. twin guitars of Whit Smith & Matt Munisteri
  • Elana James's Hot Fiddle: Introduction to Violin Improvisation (2011) Instructional DVD
  • Elana James (2007) (Snarf Records) Solo CD by Elana James
  • Black Beauty (2015) (Snarf Records) Solo CD by Elana James


External links[edit]