Bruce Ricker (1942—2011) was born in Staten Island and attended the City College of New York. It was during these formative years in the city that Ricker spent much of his time going to legendary clubs such as the Five Spot, the Half Note and Birdland where Ricker discovered the music of John Coltrane, Bo Diddley and Thelonious Monk among many other musicians of the day. Ricker went on to earn a law degree at Brooklyn College and became an attorney in 1971. He made his first and most critically acclaimed film work, The Last of the Blue Devils, a feature-length portrait of Kansas City’s old-time jazz men, in 1979. 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 Clint Eastwood in 1988 on the Thelonious Monk documentary Straight No Chaser, which led to numerous future collaborations with Eastwood including documentaries on Tony Bennett, Budd Boetticher and Jim Hall.
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.