[JPL] Bruce Ricker, champion of KC jazz and film, dies at 68

Louis Erlanger louisx at myfairpoint.net
Tue May 17 00:09:54 EDT 2011


Sorry to hear this.  He gave me helpful advice when I was shopping a blues 
film, and we had never met before.  "Last of The Blue Devils" was a 
wonderful film, and Rhapsody Films had a great catalogue.

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Dr. Jazz" <drjazz at drjazz.com>
To: <jazzproglist at jazzweek.com>
Sent: Monday, May 16, 2011 11:20 PM
Subject: [JPL] Bruce Ricker, champion of KC jazz and film, dies at 68


>
> Posted on Mon, May. 16, 2011
>
>
>  Bruce Ricker, champion of KC jazz and film, dies at 68
>
> By STEVE PAUL
> The Kansas City Star
>
> Some of the details remain hazy, but it was 1975 in a small midtown supper 
> club where a crowd of serious jazz people gathered to celebrate the past.
>
> Bruce Ricker, an attorney turned local activist and filmmaker, had been 
> spending time here with a graying generation of musicians, recording their 
> memories, stories and music from the heyday of Kansas City jazz.
>
> And now he and his fellow filmmakers, John Arnoldy and Eric Menn, were 
> showing a sprawling rough cut of the film. I think we sat for three and a 
> half or four hours, watching the likes of Big Joe Turner, Count Basie and 
> Ernie Williams banter about the joyous and jumping vibe of one of our 
> city's greatest exports.
>
> The projector broke down a few times, and there was a lot of wandering 
> around the club and chattering as the film ran its course.
>
> It took Ricker, a native New Yorker, another four or five years to raise 
> the money and finish his film, cutting about 30 hours of footage down to a 
> svelte 90 minutes. By then he was back in New York. But when we ultimately 
> got the pared-down version of "The Last of the Blue Devils," most of us 
> came to appreciate the enormous achievement of Ricker's labor of love.
>
> Ricker died Friday, at 68, after a long bout with pneumonia. He lived in 
> Cambridge, Mass., with his wife, Kate Gill, and daughter Emma. In the 
> years since 1980, when "Last of the Blue Devils" premiered in London, 
> Kansas City and New York, Ricker remained a passionate champion of jazz 
> and film.
>
> He operated a jazz-on-video distribution business, Rhapsody Films, making 
> movies and repackaging many rare and collectible recordings.
>
> He partnered with documentarian Charlotte Zwerin on a film about 
> Thelonious Monk, and attracted the involvement of Clint Eastwood on that 
> and subsequent movies. Ricker partnered with Eastwood on a film about Dave 
> Brubeck and segments of a PBS series on the blues, presented by Martin 
> Scorsese, including "Piano Blues." Most recently, Ricker made a 
> documentary on Tony Bennett for PBS' American Masters series, which aired 
> in 2007.
>
> Ricker had come to Kansas City in 1970 to work on a graduate law degree at 
> the University of Missouri-Kansas City, and wound up in practice for a 
> while with onetime U.S. Attorney F. Russell Millin.
>
> As a lawyer, Ricker was executor of the estate of the writer and critic 
> Seymour Krim. Ricker was partial to a range of music, to Beat poets and to 
> occasional countercultural high jinks. (He once participated in a Kansas 
> City film project called "Linda Lovelace for President.")
>
> I once turned him on to a friend's jazz-oriented novel, and Ricker put 
> together a deal to option it for Hollywood. (Oh, well; a film never 
> materialized.)
>
> But, for Kansas Citians, "The Last of the Blue Devils" was his most 
> significant contribution. Framed around a gathering of musicians at the 
> historic Mutual Musicians Foundation, the movie helps preserve the 
> vitality and significance of this city's jazz scene of the 1920s, '30s and 
> '40s. It was loose and lively, respectful and eminently down-to-earth. As 
> one writer put it at the time, the film "was a long, boozy party of 
> undistilled joy."
>
> "I enjoy the Altmanesque feel of the movie," Ricker told The Star in 1980 
> (citing another filmmaker from Kansas City, Robert Altman), "the not 
> knowing just where it is going to go next. Some people feel the film 
> should have Walter Cronkite narrating it or something, but I felt the 
> emotional content was more important than stating any specific facts. We 
> deliberately worked toward a lot of emotional scenes."
>
> In 1988, as Eastwood was making his own fictional homage to Charlie 
> Parker, the film called "Bird," he came across Ricker's "The Last of the 
> Blue Devils" and backed a re-release of the film, which led to a hugely 
> successful opening in Paris.
>
> "It may be just my opinion but as far as I'm concerned," Eastwood wrote in 
> Le Monde at the time, "Americans don't have any original art except for 
> Western movies and jazz."
>
> Over the years "The Last of the Blue Devils" was shown in Europe, 
> spreading what by then was the poignant history of Kansas City jazz.
>
> "When the film first came out in 1980, Basie and Turner were still 
> around," Ricker told The Star at the time. "But when you see it today on 
> the big screen and realize that they've all passed away, it seems to 
> affect people more strongly."
>
> -- 
> Dr. Jazz
> Dr. Jazz Operations
> 24270 Eastwood
> Oak Park, MI  48237
> (248) 542-7888
> http://www.drjazz.com
> SKYPE:  drjazz99
>
>
>
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