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A Fleet and Inventive GuitaristCopyright © 1999The Scotsman, 1999
Salvador, SalSal Salvador belonged to a generation of fleet, inventive, warm-toned bop guitarists who took their inspiration from the short-lived but hugely influential example of Charlie Christian. Like his close friend, Mundell Lowe, Salvador went on to develop his own authoritative slant on that model, and excelled in contexts from duo to big band.
He was born Silvio Smiraglia in Monson, but grew up in Stafford Springs, Connecticut, where he began playing what was then known as hillbilly music on an acoustic guitar which had belonged to his father. The music of trumpeter Harry James captured his attention, but his conversion to both jazz and electric guitar was completed when he heard Christian play on record with Benny Goodman.
He took correspondence courses with guitarist Oscar Moore, famous for his role in the Nat King Cole trio, in the mid-40, and moved to Springfield, Massachussets, in 1945, where he played locally with two other young musicians who would go on to become eminent jazz figures, saxophonist Phil Woods and drummer Joe Morello.
He moved to New York and struck up a friendship with guitarist Mundell Lowe, who recommended him for a job as staff guitarist at Radio City Music Hall in 1949, where he worked alongside guitarist Johnny Smith. He became the house guitarist for Columbia Records for a time in the 1950s, backing singers like Tony Bennett, Rosemary Clooney and Marlene Dietrich on records.
He toured with vibraphonist Terry Gibbs and trombonist Eddie Bert after leaving the Radio City job, then joined the Stan Kenton Orchestra at the end of 1952, a crucial point in the development of that band. Kenton featured him prominently during the year he spent in the band, most famously on 'Invention for Guitar and Trumpet' from the seminal album New Concepts in Artistry in Rhythm (the music was later featured in the film The Blackboard Jungle in 1955).
His time with Kenton raised the guitarist's profile immensely. The association also extended to the bandleader helping Salvador secure a contract to cut his own record for Capitol, released as Kenton Presents Sal Salvador in 1954. It followed the guitarist's debut album earlier that year, a 10-inch LP for Blue Note entitled Sal Salvador Quintet .
He formed his own popular quartet with pianist Eddie Costa in 1954 after leaving the Kenton organisation, which also included Phil Woods. In 1958, he appeared in the famous film Jazz On A Summer's Day , playing with saxophonist Sonny Stitt at the Newport Jazz Festival that year.
The Kenton influence had clearly made a lasting impression, however, and Salvador launched his own big band in 1958 with the Kentonesque title The Colours of Sound. The band recorded albums for Decca Records, and played on an intermittent basis until the mid-60s.
He did not release a record as leader from 1963 until 1978, a period in which he concentrated on developing his activities as a guitar teacher and playing live, but began recording with his own groups again that year, working with old friends like Eddie Bert and Joe Morello as well as some of the younger players emerging at that time. He considerably expanded his discography in the process with a sequence of albums for the Beehive, Stash, JazzMania and Westside labels.
He was always comfortable playing with other guitarists, and enjoyed a fruitful series of such associations, including a group with Mundell Lowe in the early 50s, a duo with Allen Hanlon from the early 70s, the Crystal Image quartet with Hank Levy in the late 80s, and a reunion with Lowe in the mid-90s.
He wrote a number of highly regarded guitar instruction books, and became head of the guitar department at the University of Bridgeport and Western Connecticut State University.
Sal Salvador died of cancer. He is survived by his wife, Catherine Smiraglia; a daughter, Lorinda; two sons, Daniel and Barry; and two grandchildren.