Hot Club of Cowtown
western swing and hot jazz
As its name implies, the Hot Club of Cowtown pays homage to two legendary groups from the 1930s: the swinging guitar and violin of Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli’s Hot Club of Paris, decamped from that city to the territory of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Now celebrating 20 years together, the Hot Club of Cowtown is widely recognized as one of the finest ensembles in western swing and hot jazz today.
Western swing emerged from Texas, Oklahoma, and the lower Great Plains in the 1920s and 1930s as local bands searched for ways to keep house party and dance hall audiences on their feet all night. It was an amalgamation of the country string band music and old-time fiddle traditions of the Southwest, combined with the “cosmopolitan” big-band jazz of the era. Musicians gave western swing an even stronger regional flavor by using accents from other local styles, including cowboy tunes, German polka, African American blues, and music from the Mexican borderlands. Western swing became wildly popular in the 1940s, and its cultural richness and sheer danceability have contributed to its enduring national popularity.
Fiddler and singer Elana James grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas, riding horses and playing classical violin. James discovered her musical home in western swing fiddle in the early 1990s, when at age 23 she met guitar wiz Whit Smith. By 1997, Whit and Elana had formed the Hot Club of Cowtown. Whit Smith’s trademark vintage tone and impeccable style have earned him admiration and accolades from fellow musicians and music critics from Vintage Guitar to American Songwriter. Bassist Jake Erwin hails from Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys broadcast their daily radio show. Jake is a premier practitioner of percussive “slap bass,” a style begun in early New Orleans jazz that continues to be heard in country, blues and rock and roll. The Hot Club of Cowtown—collectively James, Smith and Erwin—are among the youngest-ever inductees into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame and were named Western Swing Group of the Year at the 2015 Ameripolitan Music Awards. They have toured as U.S. State Department Musical Ambassadors to Algeria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, and the Sultanate of Oman. In addition to their own worldwide touring schedule, the Hot Club of Cowtown has toured with Bob Dylan, Willie Nelson, the Mavericks, and many others.
Fans and critics alike are captivated by the group’s virtuosity, style, energy and creativity. The Chicago Tribune put it this way: “This Austin-based western swing/jazz trio—violin, guitar and upright bass—will bring even the tamest audience to its feet.”