Analyzing college football coaches’ favorite musical artists

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ESPN conducted a survey of all 128 Division I college football coaches, asking them to name their favorite musical artist. The full list of responses is here. My cursory analysis is here:   Continue reading

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The End of Tulsa Jam

The Tulsa Sound is defined in large part by the work of its two principal pillars, J.J. Cale and Leon Russell. Cale passed three years ago, and, on Sunday, Russell too returned to the eternal dust bowl:

Russell, known as “The Master of Space and Time,” was a master of the blues, country, rock, gospel — whatever styles of music were put in front of him and whatever he could pull from his creative mind. With dozens of albums, hundreds of songs recorded by musicians at the top of their game and thousands of contributions to recordings from The Beach Boys to J.J. Cale, Russell’s influence on music in the last 50 years has been profound.

In 1969, Russell performed in the Delaney & Bonnie and Friends band, with several members of the band coming on with Joe Cocker for the Mad Dogs and Englishmen recordings and iconic tour. That tour put a spotlight on fellow Tulsa musicians, with Jim Keltner and Blackwell on drums and Carl Radle on bass performing on the tour and on the album.

Russell launched his solo career with the release of his self-titled album in 1970, an album that included one of his best-known songs, “A Song for You.”

Russell moved back to Tulsa in the early 1970s to establish Shelter Records and build recording studios in Tulsa and near Grand Lake. A memorial to Russell grew throughout the day Sunday on the steps of his old Tulsa studio, The Church Studio on Third Street, which the city renamed Leon Russell Road in 2010.

His solo career produced multiple hit albums and songs, including “A Song for You,” “Tight Rope,” “Stranger in a Strange Land” and “Lady Blue.” His work spanned genres from the rock sounds of his self-titled 1970 album to the honky-tonk of “Hank Wilson’s Back,” incorporating blues, gospel and soul across his albums.

“He played and recorded with the heavyweights of country music — George Jones and Willie Nelson — and of course rock ‘n’ roll royalty — George Harrison and Eric Clapton,” said Jeff Moore, director of the forthcoming Oklahoma Museum of Popular Culture, to which Russell donated a large part of his work for future display.

Relix adds this note from Russell’s appearance at the 2015 Lockn’ Festival:

But when it came down to brass tacks, he was straight business—playing and singing with all his might, giving tips to the musicians, beaming with joy as Derek [Trucks] ripped a solo or Susan [Tedeschi] wailed on the mic, and even leading the troupe through some surreal improvised jams. He was fully engaged with everyone in that rehearsal room, even though it must’ve been an overwhelming experience for him (he was working with dozens of people he hadn’t seen in over 45 years). He was like the elder statesman of the experience and treated everyone with love, respect and humility, which ultimately guided that massive collective to deliver one of the finest and most memorable shows any of us had ever seen or any of the musicians had been a part of.

Enough chatter. I’ve featured the exact same take of this first jam in this space before, but its opening makes it too perfect to omit this time around:

Russell also played a featured role in Ravi Shankar and George Harrison’s Concert for Bangladesh, and this spotlight medley is a highlight of the night:

I’m not sure what’s going to happen now to the Tulsa Sound and scene without these two, and I’m hardly in a position to say, but I know that they made something special, authentic, and perfectly delivered. We don’t deserve more, and we probably don’t even deserve that.

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Previously
J.J. Jam
Stranger in Town Jam

Madness: The NCAA Tournament’s structural flaw

The organizing principle of a competition arranged in the fashion of the NCAA men’s basketball tournament is that better teams should have easier paths for advancement, the goal being for the best teams to meet as late as possible. Tournament organizers therefore employ a seeding system that awards teams believed to be the strongest with the best seeds (i.e., the lowest numbers) and first pits them against teams believed to be the weakest.This is sensible, logical, and good. Anything can happen once the games begin, of course, but if Michigan State and Kansas, for example, are the best teams in this year’s tournament, the tournament should be designed such that those two teams are most likely to face off in the final, championship round. Generally speaking, this is how the NCAA tournament is organized.

From 1985 until 2000, the tournament’s field held steady at sixty-four total teams. In 2001, it expanded to sixty-five teams, adding a single play-in game to determine which team would be the sixteenth seed to face the number one overall seed. In 2011, the tournament field expanded to sixty-eight teams, its current size, with four play-in games.

Many people dislike the fact that the tournament has expanded beyond a seemingly optimal sixty-four-team field, but all should agree that, however many teams and play-in games are included, the tournament should be organized such that the projected difficulty of each team’s path through the tournament is inversely proportional to its seed position. As currently constructed, however, the tournament deviates from this basic principle.

All play-in games are not created equal. Two of the four fill sixteenth-seeded positions, while the other two fill eleventh-seeded positions, and the latter grouping is the culprit here. The NCAA and its broadcast partners no longer refer to the play-in games as the “first round,” thankfully, but, however labeled, these games constitute a significant structural hurdle for their participants. It’s difficult enough to win five consecutive games against the nation’s top competition; adding a sixth game places the play-in teams at a major disadvantage.

If a tournament organized in this fashion is to proceed with sixty-eight participants, play-in games are a necessity. The heavy burden of participating in an extra round of competition should be apportioned in accordance with the tournament’s organizing principle, however. In this instance, that should mean applying it to the lowest-seeded (i.e., highest number) teams. Using two of the play-in games to determine eleventh-seeded positions inappropriately and adversely distorts the degree of difficulty for those two positions.

2016bracket

This year, the unduly burdened teams are Vanderbilt, Wichita State, Michigan, and Tulsa, which are competing in play-in games for eleventh-seeded spots in the tournament’s first full round. Each of these teams would be better off as a twelfth, thirteenth, or even fourteenth seed (to say nothing of an eleventh seed in the West or Midwest regions, where eleven seeds are not similarly encumbered) than they are as participants in eleventh-seed play-in games.

If the tournament committee really believes each of those four teams belongs in the tournament and is deserving of an eleven seed, or thereabouts, it should pick one from each pairing– Vandy/WSU and Michigan/Tulsa– to be the eleventh seed, make the other the twelfth, bump the remaining lower seeds in the region down by one, and have the existing fifteenth seed play the existing sixteenth seed in a play-in game instead. (This wouldn’t be a clean fix in the East region, which already has a Florida Gulf Coast/Fairleigh Dickinson play-in game for the sixteenth seed, but the Midwest region has no play-in games, so one of Michigan/Tulsa could be moved to the eleventh or twelfth seed there, bumping Hampton and MTSU into a play-in game for the sixteenth-seed position in that region.)

Two of the eleventh-seed play-in participants, Vanderbilt and Michigan, likely were two of the last teams to earn at-large bids to this year’s tournament. Even if that’s true, though, it shouldn’t matter. The in/out decision is binary: a team is either in the tournament or it isn’t. Once the field is determined, the committee then should seed the teams based on their basketball merit. If the committee thinks so little of Vanderbilt, Wichita State, Michigan, and Tulsa that it wants to put them through the paces of a play-in game, it should have seeded them lower than eleventh.

The current arrangement of the NCAA tournament play-in games constitutes a structural flaw not because those preliminary games exist, but because of the seed positions they involve. If the NCAA insists on using the play-in-game arrangement to include sixty-eight teams in the tournament, it should use those play-in games in a manner that aligns with the tournament’s overall organizing principle of strength-based seeding. In practice, no tournament of this sort will be perfectly balanced in its initial arrangement, but the current structure clearly is contrary to that fundamental organizational principle and unnecessarily distorts the balance of the entire tournament.

Football scores

Football has kind of weird scores. Even though it is common to most readers of this blog, a sport where scoring 3 or 7 is common while 2 is rare is kind of weird in the scheme of sports (most other sports are strictly one point at a time other than basketball where 1, 2, 3 are each fairly common).

I was always interested as a kid in figuring out what possible scores can happen in a football game. Certainly multiples of seven are common: 7, 14, 21, 28, etc. along with one or two field goals thrown in for good measure. I wanted to know exactly which scores are possible and which are absolutely forbidden.

Each team’s score is independent of the other: how many points I can score doesn’t depend on how many the other team scores, so we need only look at a single team’s possible scores. For numbers less than seven, zero is clearly possible. Next, a safety gives two and a field goal three. Four, five, and six are made up of combinations of safeties and field goals. Then anything seven or greater can be scored by following simples rules (along with many other possible combinations): keep subtracting seven point touchdowns as long as possible. If the remaining score is zero, you are done. If it is one, switch one of the extra points to a two point conversion. Otherwise, if it is two through six, add safeties and field goals as necessary. For example, if a team had its heart set on scoring 43 points in a game, we would see that six touchdowns takes us to 42, one point short, so five regular touchdowns plus one with a two point conversion gets us there. (For the adventurous reader, this sort of math is known as modular arithmetic.)

This leaves us with any score accessible except for one. This was always a bit disappointing because that is infinitely many possible inaccessible scores. But so it goes.

Except, not. Actually this is not true at all. Continue reading

J.J. Jam

Recent selections in this space have featured the music of the lately departed (Ray Manzarek and Bobby “Blue” Bland), and today’s offering adheres to that trend. While trying to avoid engaging in any sort of comparative analyses, the passing of today’s featured artist feels like a pretty big deal. Eric Clapton’s site has the details:

The legendary American Singer / Songwriter, JJ Cale, died on Friday 26 July of a heart attack at Scripps Hospital in La Jolla, California. The news was reported on his management company’s website and on the musician’s Facebook page.

JJ Cale (John W. Cale) was born on 5 December 1938, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. …

A composer, guitarist and vocalist, he was one of the innovators of the “Tulsa Sound.” It draws on blues, rockabilly, country, and jazz influences. In an interview, JJ once said, “I don’t think there is a Tulsa sound as such. It’s just individuals. But I know what you mean. In western Oklahoma you’ve got a lot of country music. Then in eastern Oklahoma, it’s closer to the Mississippi and you’ve got more blues musicians. In Tulsa we got influenced by both and there’s some jazz in there too. So I guess that’s what made my sound.”

JJ began playing guitar in the clubs around Tulsa, Oklahoma in the 1950s. He played in a variety of rock and western swing bands, including one with Leon Russell. In 1959, he moved to Nashville, Tennessee where he was hired by the Grand Ole Opry’s touring company. After a few years, he returned to Tulsa where he reunited with Russell and began playing in the local clubs. In 1964, JJ and Leon moved to Los Angeles with another musician from Oklahoma, Carl Radle. In Los Angeles, JJ worked as a studio engineer and played with Delaney and Bonnie for a brief time. He launched his solo career in 1965. That same year, he cut the first version of “After Midnight,” which would become his most famous song. …

He returned to Tulsa in 1967 and again embarked on the club circuit. Within a year, he had completed a set of demos. Carl Radle obtained a copy and sent them to Denny Cordell, who was launching Shelter Records with Leon Russell. Shelter signed Cale in 1969. JJ’s debut album, Naturally, was released in December 1971. It included the Top 40 hit “Crazy Mama,” a re-recorded version of “After Midnight” (which nearly reached the Top 40) and “Call Me the Breeze.” These remain some of his best known songs.

Following the release of his sophomore effort, JJ embarked a slow work schedule. Over the years, his aversion to stardom and extensive touring became well-known. He happily remained relatively obscure for decades. In an interview, JJ Cale said, “I’m a guitarist and a songwriter and I got lucky when Clapton heard one of my songs. I’m not a showbiz kind of guy. I had the passion to do music as much as anybody. But I never wanted to be the patsy up front. And I still don’t want to be famous.”

It took until 1983 for him to record his eighth album, 8. Then, there were no further albums until1990’s Travel Log. 10 was released in 1992, followed by Close to You (1994) and Guitar Man (1996). Those albums were followed by another long period of inactivity. JJ did not return to recording until 2003. The result was the critically acclaimed To Tulsa and Back (2004). His last CD was Roll On (2009). He embarked on his final tour in April 2009 to support it’s [sic] release.

Eric Clapton is one of many musicians who have noted J.J’s influence on their music. They include Mark Knopfler, Neil Young, Bryan Ferry, and “jam bands” like Widespread Panic. Clapton, when asked by Vanity Fair several years ago “What living person do you most admire?” replied simply “JJ Cale.” Neil Young has said, “Of all the players I ever heard, it’s gotta be Hendrix and JJ Cale who are the best electric guitar players.”

Over the years, Eric Clapton recorded several of JJ Cales’ compositions including “After Midnight”, “I’ll Make Love To You Anytime”, “Travelin’ Light”, “Angel” and “Cocaine” which remains a Clapton concert staple to this day.

… Later [in 2004], Eric invited JJ to produce an album for him. Work started in the summer of 2005, but it evolved into a collaborative effort. Their joint album, The Road To Escondido, was released to critical acclaim on 7 November 2006. Certified gold by the RIAA, it won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album in 2008. … JJ can also be heard on EC’s 19th studio album, Clapton (2010) and Old Sock (2013).

Famous for songs others turned into hits, “After Midnight” and “Cocaine,” via Clapton, and “Call Me the Breeze,” via Skynyrd, J.J. Cale was far from a back-room, record company songwriter. He was, as the tribute from Clapton’s folks indicates, a true musician in his own right, and he would have been an important one even if those heavy commercial hitters hadn’t picked up a few of his tunes. (He didn’t mind the royalty checks, though, he acknowledged in a statement picked up by this nice Daily Beast retrospective.) That’s why it seems right to remember him not through the interpretive work of others, but through his own performances.

His 2004 release, To Tulsa and Back, has been in my regular rotation since it came out, so the first of the following three selections comes from that album:

[Video not available for embedding. Click here.]

A friend commended the next choice, from Cale’s 1972 album, Naturally, which features Carl Radle on bass:

Finally, a collaboration with fellow propagator of the Tulsa Sound, Leon Russell:

Ride on, J.J.