Founder of two of the most important bossa nova trios of the '60s, the Jongo Trio and the Som Três, Sabá started as a professional at 16, at the Rádio Clube do Pará, with the vocal group Os Gaviões do Samba (which also contained his brother, the bassist Luís Chaves, known later especially for his work with the Zimbo Trio). Sabá continued to perform with that group until he moved to São Paulo, in 1952. In São Paulo, he got his first job in the group of accordionist Bruno Zwarg (Itiberê Zwarg's father). In late 1953, Sabá became a sideman for Johnny Alf at the Baiúca club. During the three years that he played with Alf, Sabá honed his harmonic skills with maybe the single most important and influential Brazilian musician of that period.
When the Baiúca was closed by sanitary inspectors, the duo came to an end. But, in 1956, the club reopened with a trio formed by pianist Moacyr Peixoto (Cauby Peixoto's brother), drummer Rubinho Barsotti, and bassist Luís Chaves. An argument between the club's owner and Peixoto resulted in the departure of the latter, replaced by Amilton Godoy. That was the origin of the Zimbo Trio.
In early 1965, Sabá was approached by Toninho Pinheiro, who wanted to form a vocal/instrumental trio. With the addition of pianist Cido Bianchi, soon the Jongo Trio was ready to perform. The repertory was basically bossa nova, but new songs with a Northeastern flavor by the novice composer Hermeto Pascoal also were featured.
After some insistence, the trio opened one of the important Teatro de Arena theater shows, in which bossa nova was being presented in São Paulo, with the samba "Menino das Laranjas" (Theo de Barros). The success of the show (in which they had to perform eight numbers by request of the audience) brought to the trio an invitation to back up Baden Powell at the Cave club.
In April of that year, the Jongo Trio was invited to a season with Elis Regina and Jair Rodrigues at the Paramount theater. In spite of the group's fundamental role in the extraordinary success of that series of shows, they weren't even credited in the Dois na Bossa album. But the freshness and impact of their sound is still highly regarded, having being praised, for example, by Eduardo Gudin, who wrote "Jongo Trio" (recorded by his wife Vânia Bastos on her CD Canta Mais).
Not aware of the creative importance of the Jongo Trio approach, in early 1966, Sabá and Toninho Pinheiro started to rehearse with the young César Camargo Mariano (who had played in the quartet led by Sabá at the Baiúca, which recorded a double single in 1963 through Audio Fidelity). Fascinated by Mariano's rhythmic and harmonic command, Sabá and Pinheiro dismissed Bianchi, dissolving the Jongo Trio and then forming the Som Três. In fact, the new trio was still presented as Jongo Trio during their performance on Elis Regina's O Fino da Bossa TV/live show, but as the name had been copyrighted by Bianchi they eventually were forced to adopt a new one.
Hired to play on the Spotlight TV Tupi show, the Som Três backed Wilson Simonal there, the beginning of six years of collaboration with the singer. The trio also became active in the historic festivals of the late '60s, accompanying Chico Buarque and MPB-4 ("Roda Viva"), Roberto Carlos ("Maria, Carnaval e Cinzas"), and Beth Carvalho ("Andança"), among others.
In 1970, the year in which the Som Três launched the LP Um É Pouco, Dois é Bom, Este Som Três É Demais, Elis Regina invited César Camargo Mariano to be her sideman for a season in Rio de Janeiro, but Sabá and Pinheiro stayed in São Paulo. It was the end of the vibrant and energetic trio.
With the decline of bossa nova and the subsequent closing of live music clubs during the dance-music craze of the John Travolta period in the '70s, Sabá became a member of the trad gaúcho group Conjunto Farroupilha; until he was invited by Dick Farney to back him up at the Flag club, where the duo performed for six years.
By the late '70s, Sabá became a radioman at the Jovem Pan station (São Paulo), moving later to the USP and Gazeta radio stations. He presents his own shows on Rádio Trianon, but still works actively with his Quarteto Sabá, having performed in Lisbon, Portugal, in 2001.