Primarily recognized as Louis Armstrong’s bassist, Arvell Shaw must have been one of the last musicians to learn to play his instrument on the famed Mississippi riverboats. Taught trombone and tuba in high school, in his native St. Louis, he took up the double bass in 1942 while playing with the legendary Fate Marable, a bandleader who spent his life working on the paddle steamers. The omens were already good for Shaw, because Miles Davis, Clark Terry and Ernie Wilkins had also been in the high school band in St Louis. It was Terry who persuaded him to switch to bass.
Leaving Marable to join the US Navy, Shaw played in several military bands throughout the Second World War (Clark Terry was in the first of them) Louis Armstrong took the young man into his big band when he left the navy.