Sal Salvador was born in Monson, Mass. on November 21, 1926. His household moved to Stafford Springs, Connecticut in 1927. Salvador’s first guitar was given to him by his father. His main musical interest in the beginning, which he had in common with numerous of his pals, was playing hillbilly music. During the early 1940s Sal began to become excited about jazz music primarily through the recordings of trumpeter Harry James.
Sal Salvador first began playing jazz on an acoustic guitar in the style of Dick McDonough, Carl Kress, and George Van Eps. After hearing some recordings of Charlie Christian playing with Benny Goodman he decided to make a move over to the electrical guitar. From 1945-1946 he took correspondence courses with Oscar Moore, who was the guitarist with Nat King Cole, as well as Hy White.
Sal was also studying jazz guitar with Eddie Smith at that point in his career. In 1949 Mundell Lowe, with whom Salvador was friends, recommended him for the position of staff guitar player at New York’s Radio City Music Hall. Sal also studied and developed a close friendship with jazz guitar giant Johnny Smith who was on the NBC musician’s staff in New York City at that time.
After leaving his Radio City Music Hall gig Sal Salvador went on the road, initially with vibraphonist Terry Gibbs’ band, then with trombonist Eddie Bert, and finally with a group called “The Dardanelles”. On his return trip to New York, Salvador formed a jazz quartet with Mundell Lowe. Over the next couple of years he worked primarily as a studio musician for Columbia Records playing back-up guitar for vocalists like Marlene Dietrich, Frankie Laine, Tony Bennett, and Rosemary Clooney.
In 1952 Salvador gained international fame after he joined “The Stan Kenton Big Band”. For the next two years he was a prominent member of this well-known band. In 1954 he formed his own quartet with pianist Eddie Costa. They tape-recorded and played at top jazz clubs throughout the USA. In 1958 Sal was a featured soloist at the Newport Jazz Festival.
Sal Salvador then toured and recorded for a while with his own big band “Colors In Sound”. This last venture accompanied the decline of the stage band scene and as a result ultimately disbanded. Sal also had a long association with the Gretsch Guitar Company. He helped design and eventually played the Gretsch “Sal Salvador Model” jazz guitar for several years.
Salvador eventually settled in the New York area where he ended up being involved in teaching, writing jazz guitar instruction books, and for numerous years played in a successful jazz guitar duo with the late Allen Hanlon. In later years Sal stayed in Connecticut where he divided his time between heading the guitar departments at the University of Bridgeport and Wesconn State University, private teaching, and playing with various jazz groups.
In 1978 Sal Salvador re-emerged by launching some new recordings and had a higher profile as a performing jazz guitar player during his last 20 years, leading an adventurous quintet called “Crystal Image” while keeping his roots in creative straight-ahead mainstream jazz.
It was likewise around 1978 that a new “Sal Salvador Model” jazz guitar was developed and constructed by Connecticut based luthier Carl Barney according to Sal’s specific requirements. This particular guitar design featured a suspended pick-up and is still readily available today as a custom order. Sal died on September 22, 1999 at the age of 73.