Don Rader can blame it all on be-bop.
The colorful, complex yet very lyrical style of jazz that originated in the '40s with saxman Charlie Parker, pianist Bud Powell and trumpeters Fats Navarro and Dizzy Gillespie has been responsible for inspiring countless musicians. Rader is among those who'll tell you that "be-bop was, and is, my roots."
The 56-year-old cornetist and fluegelhornist--who began playing at age 5--grew up hearing records by Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Woody Herman that his father would spin on the Victrola. Little Donnie liked those bands--and went on to play with Herman and Basie. But when he heard be-bop, he was transfixed.
"I loved the chord changes and the tricky lines," he recalled on the phone from his home in Canyon Country. "It was really a challenge to learn them. You'd have to work to get them down, which gave you something to shoot for. Then you tried to get a gig so you see how it all worked out."
He's still at it. Rader will be playing be-bop tonight and Saturday at Maxwell's in Huntington Beach, where he will share the stage with alto saxophonist Med Flory, founder/leader of the band Supersax. ("I'm 5 feet and a half-inch tall, (and) since Med's over 6-2, we must be the Mutt and Jeff of jazz," Rader said with a chuckle).
But as much as he still loves be-bop, Rader acknowledged it's no longer his favorite music. He's more into modern sounds these days. "I don't listen to Parker records anymore," he said. "Clifford Brown used to be my main influence; now it's Freddie Hubbard."
Rader's most recent CD, "A Foreign Affair" (available by mail for $12.50 from Morgan and Morgan, 5301 Laurel Canyon Blvd., Suite 100, N. Hollywood 91607), recorded in March of 1990 with alto sax player Lanny Morgan and guitarist Ron Eschete, reveals Rader's current bent, particularly in its juxtaposition of flowing lines and angular interval leaps. The material includes four originals by Rader, two Ornette Coleman compositions and the classic Erroll Garner ballad "Misty."
But whatever he's playing, it's obvious that people like it. Rader gets his share of work, especially in Europe and Japan where he often tours with Benny Carter's big band.
"It's fun because it's a good bunch of cats, and it reminds me of my Basie days," said Rader, who played with Basie in 1963 and '64. "In fact, we play a lot of the same things with Benny that we played with Basie, like 'Kansas City Suite,' which Benny wrote for Basie."
In Los Angeles, he's mostly active with Les Brown's Band of Renown, with which he's been playing off and on since 1967, when he traveled to Vietnam with the Bob Hope show. "It was pretty bizarre," he said, his voice getting very quiet. "We flew to Vietnam from Bangkok each day, then sometimes we'd go into the back country by helicopter. We got shot at a couple of times, too. But the reception the show got was amazing."
* Don Rader plays tonight and Saturday at 8 and 10 p.m. with Med Flory at Maxwell's by the Sea, 317 Pacific Coast Highway, Huntington Beach. $5 cover, $7 minimum per show. Information: (714) 536-2555.