Hot Club of Cowtown

Hot Club of Cowtown

western swing and hot jazz Austin, Texas
Photo Credit: photo courtesy of artist
Hot Club of Cowtown

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 the “City of Lights” to the territory of Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. Now celebrating over 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 ’30s 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, its cultural richness and sheer danceability contributing to its enduring national appeal.

Elana James (fiddle, vocals) grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas, riding horses and playing classical violin. Elana 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’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. Joining Whit and Elana is Zack Sapunor, who plays percussive “slap bass,” a style begun in New Orleans jazz that continues to be heard in country, blues, and rock and roll. Zack has played with such stalwarts of the Austin music scene as honky-tonk legend Wayne Hancock.

The Hot Club of Cowtown is 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 captured 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.”

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