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Bruce Ricker Collection

Bruce Ricker (1942 – 2011) was born in Staten Island and attended the City College of New York, receiving one of the first degrees in American Studies. In addition to working as a police cadet, Ricker spent much of his time going to legendary clubs such as the Five Spot, the Half Note and Birdland where he discovered the music of John Coltrane, Bo Diddley and Thelonious Monk among many other musicians of the day. Working as a caseworker for the Social Services of the City of New York, he began attending law school at night and writing for a literary magazine, The Provincetown Review. Upon earning a law degree at Brooklyn College followed by a Graduate Law Degree in Urban Studies at the University of Missouri – Kansas City, he began a private practice in 1971 in Kansas City, the musically rich city that would inspire his dramatic career switch.

His first and most critically acclaimed film work, The Last of the Blue Devils (1979) is a feature-length portrait of Kansas City’s old-time jazz men, including legends Jay McShann, Big Joe Turner and Count Basie. Made on a low-budget with the help of friends, the film combines performance footage, interviews with musicians, and archival material. The Last of the Blue Devils was celebrated not only for its honest portrayal in capturing the essence of Kansas City jazz during the Depression, but also for its cinema verite approach to music documentary.

In 1982 Ricker founded Rhapsody Films which specialized in making and distributing music documentaries featuring such notable musicians as Sun Ra, Charles Mingus and Coleman Hawkins. Ricker worked with executive producer Clint Eastwood and director Charlotte Zwerin in 1988 on the production of the documentary Thelonious Monk: Straight, No Chaser, which led to numerous future collaborations with Eastwood including films on Tony Bennett, Budd Boetticher and Jim Hall. His last directorial effort was 2010's Dave Brubeck: In His Own Sweet Way. 

About the Collection

The Bruce Ricker Collection was donated to the Harvard Film Archive by Ricker in 2008, with additional material added by his widow Kate Gill in subsequent years. The collection includes original sound and picture elements including the 16mm camera originals of The Last of the Blue Devils, along with the video masters to many of his documentaries.

The Bruce Ricker Collection will be of special interest to researchers studying both music and film documentary processes, as it includes a very large assortment of Ricker’s papers related to his documentaries, including personal correspondences, notecards, photographs, letters, newspaper clippings, and myriad film stills and ephemera.

The film materials in the collection are catalogued in Hollis

Additional Resources

Bruce Ricker Films (formerly Rhapsody Films)

Bruce Ricker obituary, New York Times, 2011

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Straight No Chaser

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