Jazz lost one of its own last week, with the death of Bruce Ricker. Not a player per se, Ricker, a lawyer with a passion for jazz assembled Jay McShann, Count Basie, and Big Joe Turner in Kansas City for a jam session and filmed it. The resulting Last of the Blue Devils (1979) was a unique historic moment, a gathering of musicians, sequenced as an extended riff, as close to spontaneous as the music itself. The much praised film caught the attention of Clint Eastwood and Ricker then helped Eastwood with the scores of several of his films including The Bridges of Madison County and Mystic River, to name two films lauded for their soundtracks. Collaborating with Charlotte Zwerin, Ricker made Straight No Chaser (1988), a documentary about Thelonius Monk, and more recently films about Dave Brubeck, Johnny Mercer, and Tony Bennett.
Befriending many writers along the way, Ricker knew Seymour Krim and became his literary executor in 1990, after the beat essayist's death. We knew him at the beach, where he played a mean game of scrabble and slathered sun tan lotion on as if it were house paint. Bruce Ricker died of pneumonia at age 68. He is sorely missed.
Bruce Ricker would have been pleased to see the spirit of jazz revived at the Apollo Theater on Thursday night where a benefit for the Jazz Foundation of America featured a program masterminded by Saturday Night Live's music producer Hal Willner. Dr. John, Lou Reed, Macy Gray, Christian McBride, the Kansas City Band, Hot 8 Brass Band, and others, shared the stage with many New Orleans musicians who were helped by this vital organization, post-Katrina. The Jazz Foundation of America's executive director, Wendy Atlas Oxenhorn in a slinky dress doubled as M. C. and performer, achieving "IT" on the harmonica.
Guests included Laurence Fishburne, Melvin Van Peeples, Robert Bell from Kool & the Gang, Michael Imperioli, and Danny Glover who presented the Dr. Billy Taylor Award to Mike Novogratz. John Ventimiglia, "Artie Bucco" the restaurateur in HBO's The Sopranos, introduced Ronnie Spector. The "Ronette" said that at age 11, she performed at the Apollo on amateur night. "Obviously, I made it," she told the happy, head-bobbing crowd.
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