Arvell Shaw, a swinging bassist whose thumping, straight-ahead style gave musical backbone to Louis Armstrong's genius for a quarter-century, died on Thursday at his home in Roosevelt, N.Y. He was 79.
The apparent cause was a heart attack, said Cynthia Moton, his companion.
Mr. Shaw began playing with the Louis Armstrong Orchestra in 1945, and when Armstrong disbanded the orchestra in 1947, he was one of the first members of a septet called Louis Armstrong and the All-Stars.
Mr. Shaw was the last of the original group, which also included Jack Teagarden, Earl Hines, Big Sid Catlett, Barney Bigard, Dick Cary and the vocalist Velma Middleton.
Michael Cogswell, director of the Louis Armstrong House and Archives of Queens College, said only a handful of the many musicians who played with the All-Stars over the years are still living. "He was one of the last of his generation," Mr. Cogwell said. "He was a rock-solid rhythm-section bass player."
Mr. Shaw's bearlike frame hulking over the bass and his almost constant smile were his trademarks. He once said that playing with Armstrong was his God-ordained mission, and he played that way.
He also performed with Benny Goodman and many others. But he was best known for his long collaboration with Armstrong.
Mr. Shaw appeared with him in the films "The Glenn Miller Story" in 1954 and "High Society" in 1956.
Arvell James Shaw was born in St. Louis on Sept. 15, 1923. In an interview for the 2001 Ken Burns documentary, "Jazz," he said his father took him to see Armstrong perform when he was 8 or 9 at the Comet Theater there. "I'd heard a few records of him but when he walked out on that stage and started playing, it was like an electric shock went up my spine," he said.
He played the tuba and trombone in his high school band and switched to the double bass while in the Navy in the early 1940's. The bandmaster chose him because he was the tallest.
In 1945 Armstrong was in St. Louis when his bassist left the band temporarily while his wife had a baby. Armstrong asked the local musicians' union for the best bass player, and Mr. Shaw, back home in the West End of St. Louis, got the call.
"I was only supposed to be in the band three weeks, and it turned out to be 25 years," Mr. Shaw said in a 1996 interview with WHPC-FM, the station of Nassau Community College in Garden City, N.Y.
Mr. Shaw called himself one of the luckiest men who ever lived, because of the opportunity to play with Armstrong. The All-Stars' travels took them all over the world, including the Congo during civil strife. Both sides came to see the group and sat side by side, cheering. When the audience left, they resumed fighting.
For much of his time with the band, Mr. Shaw came and went in order to be home to help raise his daughter Victoria, who has autism. He often played for charities helping people with developmental disabilities, particularly Plus Group Homes.
In addition to Victoria Patsy Shaw and Ms. Moton, he is survived by his brother, Rudy of Charlotte, N.C., and his sister, Marvella of St. Louis.
During the 1970's and early 80's, Mr. Shaw played with bands for the Broadway shows "Bubbling Brown Sugar" and "Ain't Misbehaving." He said in an interview with Newsday last year that he would keep playing music until he dropped.
Though blinded by glaucoma, he seemed to be having a great time playing and singing in his deep voice on a chartered jazz theme cruise last month. His most frequent solo was a version of Armstrong's hit "What a Wonderful World."