Aram Shelton grew up in Florida and studied classical saxophone in college. Once he discovered improvisation, he made his move to Chicago in 1999, where he quickly became an important member of the younger set of musicians who were creating their own musical scene in the city. At the time his major focus was the alto saxophone, which continues to be his main horn, but he also began study of the trumpet and clarinet. Many of his contemporaries were influenced by completely spontaneous improvisatory modes of earlier generations, but they fused this with a focus on compositional forms. Shelton absorbed much of this as he worked in groups led by others as well as with his own combos, and this led him to eventually move to Mills College in California to study composition and to explore a new interest in electroacoustic music. The move not only expanded his technical musical horizons, but also exposed him to a different musical and social scene on the West Coast.
Although he has clearly been influenced by others, including Chicago predecessors Braxton and Mitchell, as well as earlier players such as Lee Konitz, Shelton is a saxophonist with an immediately recognizable tone and style, with a deeply personal edge to his expression. He likes drama, but also holds things back to a degree, creating an emotional tension that moves his music forward as if on a spring, with a pull that goes against the tide; his writing and improvising often relying on repetition to create a springboard for forward leaps.