Elana James grew up in Prairie Village, Kansas and began playing Suzuki violin at age four. Her mother is a professional violinist who used to play in the Kansas City Symphony. In junior high and high school James took every opportunity to play her violin, from busking on the streets of Westport in Kansas City on weekends to playing in every orchestra, quartet and chamber group she could find. She also grew up riding horses and had her own horse, April, from fourth grade onward, with whom she shared wild adventures and mayhem throughout the Kansas countryside for many years. This combination of early influences would eventually shape her career in unexpected and serendipitous ways. As it happened, it took James almost twenty years to decide between the violin and the fiddle, but in her mid-twenties, after much soul searching, James found her calling in American roots music (and occasional horse wrangling) and has never looked back.

    James is a founding member, along with Whit Smith, of the hot jazz and Western swing trio Hot Club of Cowtown. The Hot Club of Cowtown was formed after Whit and Elana met through an ad Elana placed in the music section of the Village Voice in 1994 while she was working as an editorial intern at Harper’s Magazine. Playing with Whit at night and on weekends, by the fall of that year James had became the managing editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review and had every intention of living a normal life before music eventually edged out everything else. BY 1997 Elana and Whit had moved to San Diego where they spent a year playing putting together a repetoire and playing for tips in Balboa Park, the Ocean Beach Farmers Market, and at local coffee houses and cafes. They moved to Austin in 1998, joined up with bassist Jake Erwin in 2000, and all three have been touring and recording as the Hot Club of Cowtown ever since.

    In 2015 James was named Western Swing Female of the Year at the Ameripolitan Music Awards, held in Austin, Texas, and the Hot Club of Cowtown was awarded Western Swing Group of the Year. Both were nominated in 2014 as well, the first year the Ameripolitan Music awards came into being.

    Though the Hot Club of Cowtown mostly tours throughout North America, Elana and the band enjoy occasional side trips to far-flung corners of the earth. In 2006, performing with the Hot Club of Cowtown, James had the honor of representing the US State Department as a Musical Ambassador throughout Armenia, Azerbaijan, and the Republic of Georgia, playing everything from Texas hoedowns to American Songbook standards. In July 2011, the US State Department again invited Elana and the Hot Club of Cowtown to perform in the Sultanate of Oman at the Khareef Festival in the town of Salalah, and in Oman’s capital city, Muscat. Back in the western world, Elana has been a featured guest–both by herself and with the Hot Club of Cowtown–on A Prairie Home Companion and has toured and performed as a solo artist in the UK and Australia. With the Hot Club of Cowtown she has performed at the Grand Ol’ Opry, the Women in Jazz series at Jazz at Lincoln Center, DelFest, Pickin’ in the Pines, the Glastonbury Festival in England, the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, Australia’s Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival, the Rochester Jazz Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the Bristol Rhythm & Roots Reunion, the Kennedy Center, the Cambridge Folk Festival, Stagecoach Festival, and at concert halls and venues from Mallorca to Molokai.

    During a brief Hot Club of Cowtown hiatus in 2005, James became the first dedicated female instrumentalist in Bob Dylan’s touring band in more than thirty years, then toured with him in 2006 as the opening act for his United States summer tour. She released her first solo album (Elana James) in 2007 and a second solo album (Black Beauty) in 2015. In addition to tours and recording with Bob Dylan, James has also recorded with Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Merle Haggard and others, and has written, produced and arranged, along with band mate Whit Smith, nine studio albums with the Hot Club of Cowtown. In 2004 she was inducted, with her Hot Club band mates, into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame.

    James holds a B.A., cum laude, in Comparative Religion from Barnard College, Columbia University, in New York and also studied violin and viola at the Manhattan School of Music as a student of Lucie Robert and Karen Ritscher. She is also a veteran horse wrangler and world traveler. After college James studied Dhrupad, an early form of North Indian Classical music, with Pandit Vidhur Malik in Brindavan, India and returned to New York City in the mid-1990s and studied swing improvisation with Marty Laster. Editorial jobs in New York City in the 1990s were punctuated by several summers in Colorado where James worked as a horse packer and wrangler and played fiddle in a cowboy band. More recently she has worked as a horse wrangler and packer in Montana’s Bob Marshall Wilderness and in Yellowstone National Park. James is an alumnus of the Meadowmount School of Music, the New York Youth Symphony, the Columbia University Chamber Music Program, the New York String Orchestra Seminar with Alexander Schneider, and the American Conservatory in Fontainebleau, France.


    Black Beauty (2015) CD
    Elana James (2007) CD
    Elana James’s Hot Fiddle: An Introduction to Fiddle Improvisation (2011) DVD

    Live from Belfast (2022)
    Wild Kingdom (2019, reissued 2022)
    The Finest Hour (2020)
    Crossing the Great Divide (2019)
    Midnight on the Trail (2016)
    Rendezvous in Rhythm (2013)
    Continental Dance Party Live DVD (2012)
    What Makes Bob Holler (2011)
    Wishful Thinking (2009)
    Hot Western (Japan only)
    Hot Jazz (Japan only)
    The Best of the Hot Club of Cowtown (2008)
    Continental Stomp (2003)
    Ghost Train (2002)
    Dev’lish Mary (2000)
    Tall Tales (1999)
    Swingin’ Stampede (1998)

    The Last of the Breed / Willie Nelson, Ray Price, Merle Haggard
    “Tell Ol’ Bill,” North Country Soundtrack / Bob Dylan
    The Bootleg Series, Vol 8: Tell Tale Signs – Rare and Unreleased 1989-2006 / Bob Dylan
    Waiting on a Miracle / Beat Root
    Diggin’ on Dylan / Denny Freeman
    Without You / Peggy Wright
    Don’t Leave Yet / The Hoyle Brothers
    Still Fighting the War / Slaid Cleaves
    Heybale: The Last Country Album / Heybale
    Look Good, Feel Good / Ben Mallott
    Beautiful World / Eliza Gilkyson
    Hold Me When it Rains / Doc Mason
    Kakistocracy / Spicewood Seven
    Get a Load of This / Dave Stuckey and the Rhythm Gang
    Shadow Figure / Paul Minor
    Hardtop Jubilee / Kerry Polk
    Internal Combustion / Rain Perry
    Freezerburn / Chris Beirne
    Instead the Forest Rose to Sing / Danny Schmidt
    Roll Back the Rug / The Horton Brothers
    Lullabies from the Axis of Evil / Various
    Modern Art / Tom Russell
    Indians Cowboys Horses Dogs / Tom Russell
    The Ballad of Minne and Pearl / Bruce Anfinson
    Parkinsong, Vol. 1: 38 Songs of Hope / Various
    Happy Birthday, Buck: A Texas Salute to Buck Owen / Various
    American Music: The Hightone Records Story / Various


Upcoming Shows

07/25 7:30 PM
Hot Club of Cowtown Cain's Ballroom Tulsa, OK
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07/31 8 PM
Hot Club of Cowtown Club Cafe Pittsburgh, PA
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08/01 8 PM
Hot Club of Cowtown The 9th Ward Buffalo, NY
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