The 40th annual Sarasota Jazz Festival scrapped all of its main-stage concerts earlier this month because of pandemic concerns, but managed to continue a tradition that began in 1987. That tradition is the presentation of the annual Satchmo Award, which the Jazz Club of Sarasota gives to a distinguished person in the jazz community in recognition of “unique and enduring contributions to the living history of jazz.” In other words: sort of a lifetime achievement award.
This year’s honor was given to Rachel Domber and her late husband, Mat, who founder Clearwater-based Arbors Records. Since they began the label in 1989, they have produced more than 400 recordings. They began with a focus on traditional and classic jazz, but broadened the Arbors scope to include more contemporary and swing players, including a variety of today’s rising stars.
The presentation usually is part of the festival’s Saturday night main stage event. This year, the recognition came at a Thursday, March 12 reception that had been planned to precede that night’s just-canceled concert.
Jazz club president Ed Linehan praised the Dombers for their impact on jazz. “Through their efforts, Arbors has produced hundreds of albums since 1989, representing many classic styles of Jazz. The Arbors catalog reads like a Who’s Who of American jazz of the last half century, including recordings by our own Dick Hyman - an NEA Jazz Master - and (clarinetist and current festival musical director) Ken Peplowski.”
Mat Domber was a New York-based lawyer with real estate interests in Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Florida. He was also a jazz fan, record collector and listener, beginning with preteen visits to Nick’s in Greenwich Village. He and his wife founded Arbors Records as an act of generosity, creating a culture of support and kindness that continues under Rachel’s stewardship.
The impetus was their friendship with Rick Fay, a reedman, singer and composer who had been in the music business for more than 40 years, mostly performing at the Disney parks in California and Florida, but who had never recorded as a leader. Beyond making records, Arbors also produced weekend jazz parties in Clearwater, starting with bassist Bob Haggart’s 80th birthday in 1994 and continuing through 2012, when Mat died and Rachel needed some time to regroup.
"I am very thrilled to have this award and I know Mat is so very happy too,” Rachel said. “It was a surprise - and a tremendous feeling - to look at the list of other Satchmo recipients and realize that Arbors Records has recorded and supported many of them.”
The award was named after the world's first true jazz star, Louis Armstrong, who was nicknamed "Satchmo," short for "Satchel Mouth."
Newport Jazz Festival founding producer George Wein was the first recipient, back in 1987. The many who followed included Milt Hinton (1988), Ella Fitzgerald (1989), Duke Ellington (1990), Jazz Club of Sarasota founder Hal Davis (1991), Lionel Hampton (1992), Gerry Mulligan (1993), Billy Taylor (1994), Marian McPartland (1995), Joe Williams (1996), George Shearing (1998), Dave Brubeck (1998) and Bob Haggart (1999).
Also, then-Jazz Club President Jerry Roucher (2000), Dick Hyman (2001), Jerry Jerome (2002), Bucky Pizzarelli (2003), John LaPorta (2004), Cleo Laine and John Dankworth (2005), Pete Fountain (2006), Peter Appleyard (2007), the Marsalis family (2008), James Moody (2009), the Four Freshmen (2009), (John Pizzarelli (2011), Svend Asmussen (2012), John Lamb (2013), Ken Peplowski (2014), Lillette Jenkins-Wisner (2015), Wycliffe Gordon (2016), The Jazz Cruise founder Anita Berry (2017), Jeff Hamilton (2018), Houston Person (2019), and Rachel & Mat Domber (2020).
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