Elana James (born Elana Jaime Fremerman, October 21, 1970, Kansas City, MO) is an American songwriter, Western swing, folk and jazz violinist, vocalist, and a founding member of the band Hot Club of Cowtown.
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.
James graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Comparative Religion from Barnard College, Columbia University, in New York while studying violin and viola at the Manhattan School of Music as a student of Lucie Robert and Karen Ritscher. She studied improvisation and swing fiddle with Marty Laster in New York City and studied Dhrupad, an early form of North Indian Classical music, with Pandit Vidhur Malik in Vrindavan, India.
James is a former Managing Editor of Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. In the early 1990s she worked as a horse packer and wrangler at the Home Ranch in Clark, Colorado and played fiddle in the ranch's cowboy band. 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.
Elana Jaime Fremerman met guitarist Whit Smith in 1994 through an ad in the Village Voice while both were living in New York City. They played together for some years, later adding Jake Erwin, a slap bass player, and forming Hot Club of Cowtown. The group plays its own original material as well as a mix of pre-WWII Western swing, a style made famous by Bob Wills and Milton Brown, combined with the hot gypsy jazz of guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grappelli. Other influences include American swing violinists Stuff Smith, Joe Venuti, and Johnny Gimble, to name a few. Hot Club of Cowtown, which has been based in Austin, Texas since 1998, is not named for any specific "Cowtown," and really just intended as state of mind, or "The Cowtown of the Imagination."
James toured with Bob Dylan in 2004, 2005, and 2006 (James came to Dylan's attention when The Hot Club of Cowtown, her Western swing trio, opened for him and Willie Nelson during a joint tour of historic baseball parks in the Summer of 2004). She briefly joined Dylan's band in 2005 on a tour with Merle Haggard, Bob Dylan, and Amos Lee, as the first dedicated female instrumentalist to play in Dylan's touring band since Scarlet Rivera in the early 1970s.
The Hot Club of Cowtown briefly separated in 2005. Around this time, Fremerman changed her name to Elana James and released her debut CD, Elana James, forming a trio called Elana James and the Continental Two, featuring Beau Sample (formerly of Cave Catt Sammy) on bass and Luke Hill, on guitar. She joined Dylan again in 2006 as his opening act on another historic ballparks tour also featuring Junior Brown and Jimmie Vaughan.
From 2005 through 2008, led her own trio, and also played from time to time with Cindy Cashdollar and Redd Volkaert in a trio known as the High Flyers, appearing on A Prairie Home Companion and in various clubs, especially in the Austin area. During this time James also sat in with Heybale, a group including Redd Volkaert, Earl Poole Ball, Tom Lewis, Kevin Smith and Gary Claxton, with other musicians sitting in at different times, including Cindy Cashdollar and Erik Hokkanen.
In 2008 The Hot Club of Cowtown, with James, guitarist Whit Smith and bassist Jake Erwin re-formed, and has continued touring and recording. In 2008, the band released The Best of the Hot Club of Cowtown, followed by Wishful Thinking in 2009, and in 2011, a collection of Western swing songs made popular by legendary Texas bandleader Bob Wills, What Makes Bob Holler. James also teaches fiddle workshops from time to time, and has released an instructional video on fiddling, Elana James's Hot Fiddle: Introduction to Violin Improvisation.
Elana continues to tour and perform both under her own name and with Hot Club of Cowtown.
She has been a featured guest on A Prairie Home Companion, the Grand Ol' Opry, the Women in Jazz series at Jazz at Lincoln Center, and at festivals and concerts throughout the world, including the Glastonbury Festival in England, the Fuji Rock Festival in Japan, Australia's East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival, the Rochester Jazz Festival, Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival, the Kennedy Center Millennium Stage and the Cambridge Folk Festival. In 2004 she was inducted, with her Hot Club band mates, into the Texas Western Swing Hall of Fame.