The premier protégé of the legendary Lennie Tristano, pianist Sal Mosca reigns among the most gifted improvisers of his generation. Despite collaborations alongside jazz giants including Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and Billie Holiday, he preferred the intimacy of private study to the demands of public performance, and spent long stretches of his career some distance away from the stage and the studio. Born Salvatore Joseph Mosca in Mt. Vernon, New York, on April 27, 1927, he credited his family's player piano for instilling his appreciation for music, also discovering influential jazz pianists James P. Johnson and Fats Waller before beginning his own formal lessons at age 12. Within three years Mosca was playing local nightclubs, adopting a fake moustache to disguise his age. In addition, he tutored aspiring players, beginning a lifelong passion for teaching. During World War II Mosca served as a member of a U.S. Army band. The G.I. Bill funded his tenure at the New York College of Music, where he supplemented his classical studies by frequenting the jazz clubs along 52nd Street. After college he studied under Tristano, the Chicago-born pianist who channeled contemporary classical practices into the emerging bop idiom, in effect creating free jazz years before the name or concept entered commercial vogue. Mosca adopted Tristano's musical aesthetic as well as his intense devotion to the near-religious purity of creative expression, a mindset that guaranteed him a lifetime of critical acclaim and commercial anonymity.
Mosca studied with Tristano for eight years, first earning public attention playing with alto saxophonist Lee Konitz's quartet on a self-titled 1949 date for Prestige. Two years later, he reunited with Konitz for Ezz-Thetic, which featured trumpeter Miles Davis and saxophonist Stan Getz. Mosca also supported the immortal Charlie Parker at Birdland and with Konitz and saxophonist Warne Marsh was a fixture at another celebrated club, the Village Vanguard. While playing opposite the comedian Lenny Bruce at Manhattan's The Den, Mosca was offered a record deal by producer Orrin Keepnews but declined, later explaining, "I never wanted to be caught in the web of commercial success." He did not headline a session until 1959, teaming with bassist Peter Ind for At the Den, a live set issued on the Wave label. Mosca issued two more Wave dates, 1961's Looking Out and 1969's Sal Mosca on the Piano, that together comprise the extent of his recorded output during the decade to follow. He instead focused all of his energies on teaching and studying within the confines of his Mount Vernon home, developing a remarkably advanced sense of phrasing as well as an uncommonly deep understanding of chordal progression. In 1971, he resurfaced with Konitz on Spirits, followed six years later by Sal Mosca Music, a release heralded by solo improvised performances at Alice Tully Hall and the Carnegie Recital Hall. After more than a decade out of sight, Mosca released 1990's A Concert, followed by a series of dates for the Zinnia imprint. He died July 28, 2007, in White Plains, NY, following complications from emphysema.