MARBLEHEAD — Whether it’s played in Paris, France, or Paris, Texas — or on 52nd Street in Manhattan — jazz is defined by its rhythm.
“Count Basie and Bob Wills, as different as they appear on the outside, they’re sharing a lot of similarities in the rhythm,” said Whit Smith, guitar player for Hot Club of Cowtown, a hot jazz and western swing trio that will play at Me&Thee Coffeehouse tomorrow night. “In the melody, the horns are going to sound so different from an out-of-tune violin. But underneath, they’re striving for the same thing.”
Smith and fiddle player Elana James have been striving for the same thing since 1994, when James was looking for steady work as a musician and placed an ad in the Village Voice.
“She had never heard of Bob Wills or Django Reinhardt,” Smith said. “I was a catalyst. I introduced her to it. She immediately liked the fact that you could make it your own, that she could use all the chops she had.”
Western Caravan, the 11-piece western swing band that Smith was forming, gave James a reliable source of employment, appearing at the Rodeo Bar on East 27th Street every Monday night.
But after two years, the pair left the Caravan behind and moved to California, where they lived on a beach in San Diego.
“We played in farmers markets and played for tips,” Smith said. “That is where the band started to take on its sound.”
That sound evolved in part as a result of paring down, from a large band to a duo, so that Smith and James took turns playing melody and rhythm.
“It forced us to figure out ways to sound bigger and fuller,” Smith said. “It’s almost like each person is doing two things. As a guitar player, I started to move the chords around.”