José Sala

Real name: Sala, José
Nicknames: Tito Donald
Pianist, bandleader and composer
(24 April 1909 - 23 June 1987)
Place of birth:
Rosario (Santa Fe) Argentina
Bartolomé Cossovich
| Alejandro Sala

e was one of the most well-known and remembered tango men of Rosario. Following the popularity started in the thirties by Abel Bedrune and Juan Rezzano, José Sala together with Luis Chiara were the most popular bandleaders with the busiest schedule after the 40s. Those were very happy years for tango. The names of Raúl Bianchi and Héctor Lincoln Garrot may be besides added.

Throughout his lifetime he was a correct person, tidy in his habits, sincerely esteemed by all those who met him and dealt with him. He was a hard worker in show business, always willing to start new projects of different kinds.

He led orchestras, was a composer of hits, was part of movie and theater projects and, for a long time, was spotlighted in the billboards of radios, tearooms, cafes, night venues and dancehalls of Rosario.

At age eight he began his violin studies with professor Benítez, and when he was thirteen he moved to Buenos Aires. Still wearing short pants he joined the orchestra led by maestro Albariño that was playing at a cafe of Parque Patricios. There he came acquainted with José Leone who encouraged him to play drums. For a time he devoted himself to this instrument, joining, among others, the Típica-Jazz led by Antonio Polito.

After a gig in Pergamino he returned to Rosario in 1927 and joined the orchestra headed by maestro José Güenna. The bandoneon player of that aggregation was Juan Rezzano who had composed “Duelo criollo”.

He began to study piano with Güenna and he later was able to play that instrument in the orchestra. It’s worthwhile mentioning that by that time he had already composed his first tango “Se fue Valentino” and, in collaboration with Carlos Faenza he wrote “Amor imperial”. The latter was recorded by Roberto Firpo for the Odeon label in November 1931.

As from that year, after his military service, he formed a small group that played tango and jazz which he named Orquesta Mayo. And in 1933, at the kermesses of the Club Rosario Central, he made his debut with a larger orchestra, now devoted exclusively to tango.

In 1934 he started his career on the radio, on LT3 of Rosario, with an orchestra lined up by Miguel Martino and Moretti (bandoneons), the Alma brothers (violins), their father on double bass and José Sala (piano). The vocalist was Alberto Ravel and later Oscar Grassi joined them.

In 1936 he wrote several songs for the first sound motion picture that would be entirely shot in Rosario. The film was entitled “Viejo barrio” and in it the singer Ricardo Faglia, the female singers Juanita Larra and Argentina Rojas, dancers and outstanding musicians of Rosario were showcased with the accompaniment of a big orchestra.

Encouraged by the newspaper La Tribuna de Rosario, he was the one responsible for staging the musical comedy Bohemia estudiantil in 1938 in which appeared Pedro Bassin; Nobleza Cassini, a privileged voice, later married to Atilio Cavestri. The latter was an exceptional bandoneonist of Rosario. The musical also featured Ricardo Valdez, a singer linked to tango but remembered by his tenure in the local jazz combo Los Panameños and Miguel Ángel Cárcano, a prestigious speaker, author of the tango “Color de ayer” which was recorded by Sala with Héctor Pacheco on vocals.

The press critics favorably commented this play, its music, its script, its staging and the performance of its players but the audience was indifferent to such a great effort.

From 1940 to 1943 he was on LT3 with his vocalists Pedro Bassini, Ricardo Valdez and Evita Castro. By that time, with Francisco Plano he opened the Academia Radial Argentina from which figures like Pola Warren and Alberto Osuna sprung up. The latter changed his name for Osvaldo Ribó and became Ricardo Tanturi’s singer.

In 1944 he had a short season on LT2 and soon returned to LT3; thereafter he appeared at the Mejoral balls on LT1. In 1945 we found him on LT8 and in 1946 he was hired to play for a two-month tenure on Radio Belgrano in the Federal Capital.

Later something happened that changed the relationship among the members of the aggregation. The singer Bassini split up and put together his own group. Several musicians followed him, then Sala was forced to form a new outfit that was comprised by Charito Doménico, Julio Conti and Domingo Torres (bandoneons); Schneider, Osvaldo Sotelo and Bonifacio Muñiz (violins); Julio Sala (double bass), and on piano the bandleader himself, with the vocalists Mario Garcés and Ricardo Rojas.

A few months later he traveled again to the Federal Capital. He placed his brother Domingo to play piano. The latter played by ear but had a great feeling for tango. This time he was not lucky. Soon after his debut on Radio Belgrano a strike by the musicians spoiled his appearances and he had to come back to Rosario.

In the early fifties he was appearing on radio stations and other venues of Rosario and in 1953 he tried again his luck in Buenos Aires, this time with Alfredo Belusi and Ricardo Rojas on vocals. On this occasion he conducted a very good polished orchestra with charts written by Tití Rossi. He appeared on Radio Belgrano, at dancehalls and at the famous Tango Bar where also the orchestra led by Osvaldo Pugliese played. He also appeared on the television Channel 7.

For Columbia he recorded 11 discs with 22 numbers in total. The first one was “Una canción” and, on the other side, “Adiós muchachos”, with Alfredo Belusi and Ricardo Rojas, respectively. Thereafter he switched to the TK label for which he cut 5 discs. Besides the above mentioned, Carlos Yanel (Siro San Román), Ángel Barrios and Roberto Dumas also sang during this period.

Back in Rosario, he performed in the movie theaters at the intermission shows. By that time the aggregation was lined up with: Rodolfo Montironi, Marcelo Bomprezzi, Domingo Torres and Américo Arnal (bandoneons), Antonio Agri, Osvaldo Sotelo, Bonifacio Muñiz and Cañete (violins), Julio Sala (bass) and José Sala (piano). His vocalists were Ángel Barrios and Ricardo Morel.

The musicians that passed through the ranks of his orchestra, besides the above mentioned, were players of the level of Antonio Ríos, Omar Torres, Clemente Vega, Omar Murtagh, Pedro Donadío, and besides the above mentioned singers we have to include: Ricardo Argentino, Félix Aguirre, Carmen Marín (La Chaqueñita), Delia Rodríguez and Aldo Maidal. With the latter he recorded in Rosario, for the labels Diapasón and Sol. In 1979 the Europhon company released a long-playing record with original recordings, previously published on lacquer discs.

Throughout his career he recorded over 400 numbers he composed: “Jamás me olvidarás”, with lyrics by Carlos Bahr, recorded by Edmundo Rivero and Carlos Figari; “Dale Ñuls”; “Dale Central” the latter two in collaboration with Ricardo Michelmann, Edmundo Longobuco and Roberto Puccini; “A mí dejame de jaz”, with Juan Parfait; “Qué confusión” with Roberto Puccini and Santiago Scherini; “Arañando los cincuenta” with José Sajeva and Puccini; “Hasta el final” with Mario Soto; “Cada tango un recuerdo” with his brother Domingo and lyrics by Lito Bayardo; “La pampeana” (milonga) with José Pérez Ruiz and the instrumentals, “Sin compromiso” and “Nota brava”, both very well written.

He passed away in Rosario, his hometown. When he died a career entirely devoted to tango came to an end. I’m right to say that with this memory we pay fair homage to a musician who, without exaggeration, meant the symbol of the best tango in Rosario at the time of its highest splendor.

Excerpted from a note in Tango y lunfardo nº 186, January 16, 1986, and from sketches sent by Alejandro Sala.