Salvatore Joseph Mosca was born in Mt. Vernon, New York, on April 27, 1927. The son of first generation Americans, Sal and his sister Dolores grew up during the harsh years of the Great Depression. The genre of Jazz music that had been stylized by blacks in New Orleans was rapidly spreading to an area of New York City known as Harlem, a predominantly black community formed from the great northern migration caused by World War I. Sal and jazz were destined to meet in the late 1930s at the vaudeville shows, nightclubs, and band performances of the era. Sal would become a major figure of the Free Jazz/Cool Jazz genre.
Sal says that as a child of ten or eleven years he would watch the keys on the player piano as a role of music played and would try to figure out how to play it back. Chopin is said to have learned by that method, but Sal was not so fortunate. As hard as he tried, he just couldn't reverse-engineer a piece to his satisfaction. At that time, he was playing sound combinations using the chromatic scale, trying to imitate or interpret natural sounds; the passage of a thunder storm, for example. Sal says he knew for sure by this age in his life that he wanted to be a musician, and that the piano would be his instrument.
At the age of twelve, Sal began to take piano lessons from Wilbur 'Duke' Jessup, a local Dixieland style musician. Sal was a serious student from the beginning and insists that he had little aptitude or innate musical talent. Improvement came only through hard work and constant practice.