Abbey Rader was born in New Brunswick, NJ but was raised in the Bronx, NY where he moved by the time he was six months old. His introduction to drumming began early as his father was a band leader and drummer. Rader started playing traditional jazz gigs in the early 1960s, typically piano/bass/drum or saxophone/organ/drum trios, which exposed him to a variety of musicians that subtly influenced his style.
His learning went beyond simply musicality, but increasingly, spirituality as well. Rader met drummer Clarence "Scoby" Stroman while playing opposite the Martin Rivers Trio. Scoby introduced Rader to books like Light on the Path by Mabel Collins and Paramahansa Yogananda's The Autobiography of a Yogi, which helped begin Rader's spiritual journey. Rader recalls an anecdote that touched his confidence as well. "My music reading skills were not very good, but Scoby had lots of faith in me. He stood behind me on the bandstand one night as I started to play acts with lots of music to read.” Scoby said, “That’s not a problem for you. That’s nothing for you.” I played remarkably well that night. I said to Scoby, “Did you see those difficult charts I read?”, and he said he couldn’t read a note. So I learned something else about the spiritual power and the power of the mind.”
Rader recalls that hearing John Coltrane's quartet with Elvin Jones at the Half Note Club was a pivotal moment that changed his musical expression to embracing improvisation and searching for the union between mind, spirit, and body. Additionally, the free jazz style in full motion at the time influenced Rader's musical style. He started playing in the mid-70s loft jazz movement, which led him to creating his first master as a band leader, a recording entitled The Thing. He decided that to continue to play his freer style of music, moving to Europe would provide opportunities not available in the U.S. With nothing but a drum set and $500, he traveled to London and later published The Thing while in Paris under Atmosphere Records.
From France, he moved to Germany – initially playing with Bob Lenox in Lenox's original style of rock- and funk-oriented pieces. His desire to continue playing free jazz brought Rader to drumming with George Bishop in improvised duet performances. In the 1980s, he worked with alto saxophonist, John Handy; violinist, Dr. L. Subramaniam; and bassist, Sigi Busch. John encouraged Rader to play powerfully, asking him to play drum solos behind his saxophone as they toured Europe. Later, Rader spent five years in the Gunter Hampel Big Band that included Jeanne Lee and Marion Brown. Rader's next lesson came from playing with Mal Waldron and Marc Levin, a NYC friend, on trumpet. As Rader described, Mal often helped Rader put life's tribulations in perspective and encouraged him to play freely, to transform the energy he might be feeling by channeling it into his drumming.
During this time, Rader started his Right Time band. He recorded several times with this band and established his record label ABRAY Productions. He also became a touring clinician for Sonor and Tosco (later Sabian, see: UFIP) cymbals, and taught at multiple universities in Germany. During his teaching, he frequently featured artists he worked with to teach how to improvise on music a band may play.
Rader met his wife and raised two sons in Germany, and then moved to South Florida in 1989. In the 1990s and 2000s he recorded with David Liebman, putting out four CDs together. He then spent nearly five years with violinist Billy Bang in the Jazz Doctors. In this group, Rader replaced recently deceased Dennis Charles; other band members included Frank Lowe on saxophone and bass player Ed Schuller. While doing a sound check for the Vision Festival in memory of Dennis Charles, Rader had the fortune of meeting Billy Higgins. Higgins was getting the stage ready for a drum choir and encouraged Rader to get his drum set, after which they began an impromptu drum performance. Later, Rader recorded "One for Jazz" with Bang and Lowe in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, NY. He spent much of his time touring the East Coast of the U.S.
Most recently, Rader has been performing with John McMinn, Noah Brandmark, Kyle Motl, Kidd Jordan and Peter Kuhn.
These experiences, and his current performances, continue to influence Abbey Rader's style of music. He draws on his traditional jazz roots to create a "circular feeling...[with] a lot of polyrythmn between cymbals, bass drum, and snare drum", which he employs to free himself from the original way of drumming and ultimately himself.