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Donald Fagen

Donald Fagen in concert with Steely Dan in Luzerne, Switzerland, 2007.
Background information
Birth name Donald Jay Fagen
Born January 10, 1948 (1948-01-10) (age 62)
Origin Passaic, New Jersey
Genres Rock, jazz fusion
Instruments piano, organ, various keyboard instruments, vocals, saxophone
Years active 1971 – present
Labels ABC Records
MCA Records
Giant/Reprise/Warner Bros. Records
Reprise/Warner Bros. Records
Associated acts Jay & the Americans, Steely Dan
Website Official Site

Donald Jay Fagen (born January 10, 1948[1]) is an American musician and songwriter, best known as the co-founder, lead singer, and the principal songwriter of the rock band Steely Dan (along with partner Walter Becker). Fagen is known for his use of jazz harmonies, elaborate arrangements, and attention to detail. Fagen launched a successful, if sporadic solo career in 1982, spawning three albums to date.


Early life

Fagen was born in Passaic, New Jersey, on January 10, 1948 to Joseph "Jerry" Fagen, a Jewish accountant and his wife Elinor.[2] From the ages of 12 to 17, Elinor sang in a hotel band in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains until bouts of stage fright (a condition her son would later be afflicted with) forced her to discontinue performing live.[2] Donald would later recall: "I can't ever remember when there was silence around the house. She was either playing records or singing."[2]

Around 1958, the Fagen family moved from Passaic first to the suburb of Fair Lawn, and then quickly moved and settled into a ranch-style house house in Kendall Park, New Jersey.[3] The transition greatly upset Donald, and he detested living in the suburbs. He would later tell an interviewer that it "was like a prison. I think I lost faith in [my parents'] judgement… It was probably the first time I realised I had my own view of life." Living in Kendall Park would later inspire tracks on his album The Nightfly.[2]

In the late 1950s, Fagen became interested in rock and R&B music, with his first record purchase being Chuck Berry's "Reelin' and Rockin'".[2] Around age 11, after receiving musical recommendations from a cousin and attending the Newport Jazz Festival, he quickly became a self-declared "jazz snob. I lost interest in rock n' roll and started developing an anti-social personality."[4] Fagen would regularly take the bus to Manhattan to see Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis perform.[4] Soon afterwards, he learned to play the piano, and also played baritone horn in the in high school marching band.[4] Fagen also began a life-long fondness for table tennis during his teenage years.[5]

The family was of the Jewish faith.[2] Donald had his bar mitzvah at Kendall Park's Congregation Beth Shalom in 1961, a synagogue his father helped found.[6]

After graduating from South Brunswick High School[7] in 1965, Fagen enrolled at Bard College to study English literature, having been inspired by Jack Kerouac, William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso, Allen Ginsberg, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.[8] While at Bard, Fagen met musician Walter Becker. The duo, along with a revolving assortment of musicians which included future-actor Chevy Chase, formed various groups called The Leather Canary, The Don Fagen Jazz Trio, and the Bad Rock Band.[9] Fagen would later describe his college bands as sounding like "The Kingsmen performing Frank Zappa material."[10] None of the groups lasted long, but the partnership between Fagen and Becker would continue for decades. The duo's early career included a stint with Jay and the Americans under pseudonyms, and in the early 1970s, as pop songwriters, prior to forming Steely Dan.



Steely Dan

Fagen and Becker, responding to an ad in the "Village Voice", met Denny Dias and together founded Steely Dan in August 1972. They initially formed the core of the band and co-wrote all the group's music; on tour and record, Becker played bass (and later lead guitar) and Fagen played keyboards, as well as performing almost all of the lead vocals on their recordings.

After releasing their third LP in 1974, the other members gradually left (or were fired from) the band, and it evolved into a studio project headed by Becker and Fagen. From the mid-70s onward, Steely Dan only recorded their albums with well-known American jazz and rock session musicians. They scored their biggest success in 1977 with the platinum-selling album Aja.

After a lengthy period of inactivity as a band which began in the early 1980s, the duo of Becker and Fagen revived Steely Dan in the mid 1990s, and have since produced two more Steely Dan studio albums: 2000s Two Against Nature which won several Grammys, and Everything Must Go (2003), as well as the live CD Alive in America (1995) and a live concert DVD.

Solo career

After Steely Dan's breakup in 1981, Fagen released his critically acclaimed solo debut album, The Nightfly, in October 1982. It reached #11 on the Billboard Album Chart and was certified Platinum for sales of over a million copies in the United States alone. Its premiere single was "I.G.Y. (What A Beautiful World)" - aka International Geophysical Year. The song hit the Adult Contemporary Top 10 and peaked at #26 on the Billboard Hot 100. The follow-up single, "New Frontier" peaked at #34 AC and #70 Pop but was aided by a popular MTV music video. The Nightfly was nominated for several Grammy awards including Album Of The Year. It was significantly more jazz based than Fagen's Steely Dan work. RHINO Records released a special DVD Audio version of The Nightfly in honor of the album's twentieth anniversary in 2002.

Fagen's second solo album, 1993's Kamakiriad, was produced by Becker. It climbed into Billboard's Top 10 but sold fewer copies than The Nightfly, topping off at 900,000 in sales.

Recording sessions for Fagen's third solo album, Morph the Cat, began in August 2004 and the album was released March 14, 2006. Performing on the album are Wayne Krantz (guitar), Jon Herington (guitar), Keith Carlock (drums), Freddy Washington (bass), Ted Baker (piano), and Walt Weiskopf (sax). Upon its release, Morph the Cat received universal acclaim[citation needed] and was later named Album of the Year by Mix magazine. Fagen was also given the Producer of the Year award.[citation needed]The 5.1 mix of "Morph the Cat" won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Album.[11]

All three of Fagen's albums previously released on the DVDA format have now been released in Warner's latest format MVI (Music Video Interactive) as a boxed set. Each album features a DTS 5.1, Dolby 5.1 and PCM Stereo mix but no MLP encoded track, along with bonus audio and video content. Customers will also be able to select any track or any portion of a track and use it as their mobile phone ringtone.

In March 2006, Fagen embarked on his first-ever solo tour to support Morph the Cat. This theater tour of the northeast (including one Canadian date in Toronto), the midwest, and the west coast played to sold-out houses and excellent reviews.[citation needed] Fagen's management also sold VIP packages for the tour, which included a pre-show party, premium seats, and access to the band's sound checks. This was mocked on his song-writing partner Walter Becker's website.[14] Fagen joined Becker for a Steely Dan/Michael McDonald tour the following summer of 2007.

He also toured with the New York Rock and Soul Revue. The 1986 debut album by Rosie Vela, Zazu, inspired the first collaboration between Fagen and Becker following the disbanding of Steely Dan.[12] This led to their reunion as a writing team and the creation of a new touring version of Steely Dan. The following year Fagen co-produced Becker's solo debut, 11 Tracks of Whack.

Fagen has stated in a recent interview that he plans to record his fourth solo album in spring of 2010 that will be lighter in tone and not an extension of his Nightfly/Kamikiriad/Morph The Cat trilogy.[13]

Work for, and with, other Artists

In 1977, he played synthesizer on Poco's Indian Summer album.

In 1983, he played synthesizer for the track "Love will make it Right", which he also wrote, on Diana Ross's solo album Ross.[14]

1986 had Donald writing the title track to The Yellowjackets' album Shades.[15]

Still in 1986, Donald and his long-time musical partner Walter Becker both took part to Rosie Vela's album Zazu

1991 saw the group The Manhattan Transfer record Donald's song "Confide in Me" on their album The Offbeat of Avenues.[14]

In 1992, Jennifer Warnes recorded Big Noise New York (co-written by Donald Fagen and Marcelle Clements)on her solo album The Hunter.[16]

Note: Donald's own versions of both "Confide in Me" and "Big Noise New York" were released as "'B' sides" for the CD singles of the Kamakiriad tracks "Tomorrow's Girls" and "Snowbound", respectively. They were subsequently made available on the Bonus CD of the Nightfly Trilogy Boxed set in 2007.[17]

In 2008, Donald played synthesizer on the album I Know You're Married But I've Got Feelings Too by Canadian American folksinger Martha Wainwright.[18]

Soundtrack Contributions

Donald Fagen has contributed work to the following film soundtracks:

(1981)"True Companion", to the animated cult film Heavy Metal.[19]

(1983)He wrote "The Finer Things" which appeared on the soundtrack to the Martin Scorsese film "The King of Comedy", as well as sang background vocals on the song. David Sanborn is given credit for the main part of the song.[20]

(1988) "Century's End", to Bright Lights, Big City.[21]

(1988) "Reflections", along with guitarist Steve Khan, on the film "Arthur 2:On the Rocks". This song was not an original composition, however, it was a cover of a song by Thelonius Monk. [14].

(1992) "Blue Lou" was an instrumental piece recorded for the film Glengarry Glen Ross.[22]

Other Works

Donald Fagen wrote briefly in the 1980s for Premiere magazine, including a few witty pieces on Henry Mancini and Ennio Morricone. These are available online from[23][15] His website also features other articles he has written, such as ones for

In 1988, Fagen was a co-producer of the Broadway soundtrack album The Gospel at Colonus.[24]

In the late 2000s, he appeared as the "Wise Man" in a promotional video for the Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai digital delay/looper. This short promo video was directed by frequent Steely Dan trumpet player Michael Leonhart.[25]



In 1984, Fagen was awarded an Honorary Doctor of Arts degree by his alma mater, Bard College.

In 2001, both Fagen and Becker received Honorary Doctor of Music degrees from Berklee College of Music. They both accepted their degrees in person.[26]

In 2001, Steely Dan (Fagen and Becker) were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.[27]

Personal life

In 1993, Fagen married fellow songwriter Libby Titus.[28] Although the two of them had attended Bard College at around the same time, they didn't become friends until 1987 when they were both going backstage after a Dr. John concert.[29] Libby Titus co-wrote the song "Florida Room" that appears on 1993's album Kamakiriad.[30]


  1. ^ The Times January 10, 2009, Retrieved January 9, 2010
  2. ^ a b c d e f Steely Dan: Reelin in the Years by Brian Sweet - page 7
  3. ^ 10/14/1987 -Henry Mancini's Anomie Deluxe - Premiere, October 1987
  4. ^ a b c Steely Dan: Reelin in the Years by Brian Sweet - page 8
  5. ^ Steely Dan: Reelin in the Years by Brian Sweet - page 9
  6. ^ Bringing up Steely Dan [1] Retrieved on 14-September 2009
  7. ^ South Brunswick High School: Notable Alumni and Faculty
  8. ^ Steely Dan: Reelin in the Years by Brian Sweet - page 10
  9. ^ Fruchter, Rena. I'm Chevy Chase...and You're Not. Virgin Books, 2007.
  10. ^ Steely Dan: Reelin in the Years by Brian Sweet - page 12
  11. ^ 49th Annual GRAMMY Awards Winners List, retrieved May 7, 2008
  12. ^ Rosie Vela: Zazu
  13. ^
  14. ^ a b c [2]
  15. ^ Yellowjackets History [3] Retrieved on 14-September 2009
  16. ^ [4]
  17. ^ Donald Fagen: The Nightfly Trilogy [5] Retrieved on 15-September 2009.
  18. ^ "Martha Wainwright:'I like old guys cos they like me!'"[6] Retrieved on 15-September 2009.
  19. ^ [7]
  20. ^ Outre Daniel
  21. ^ [8]
  22. ^ Donald Fagen: The Nightfly Trilogy
  23. ^ Retrieved on 14-September 2009
  24. ^ [9]
  25. ^ Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai - Film by Michael Leonhart - Digital Delay/ Looper [10]
  26. ^ Berklee College of Music: Commencement 2001 - Photographs, retrieved October 15, 2007
  27. ^ Steely Dan in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame
  28. ^ Donald Fagen-Biography [11] Retrieved on 2009-9-10.
  29. ^ Return of the Dark Brothers [12] Retrieved on 2009-9-10.
  30. ^ 'Kamakiriad -Lyrics and Credits' from "Discography Section"[13] Retrieved on 2009-9-10

External links


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