Donald Fagen

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Donald Fagen
Fagen of Steely Dan at Pori Jazz 2007 (cropped).jpg
Fagen in 2007
Background information
Birth nameDonald Jay Fagen
Born (1948-01-10) January 10, 1948 (age 71)
Passaic, New Jersey, U.S.
InstrumentsVocals, keyboards, melodica, saxophone
Years active1965–present
Labels ABC, MCA, Giant, Reprise, Warner Bros.
Associated acts Jay and the Americans, Steely Dan, the Dukes of September
Website Official Facebook

Donald Jay Fagen (born January 10, 1948) is an American musician best known as the co-founder, lead singer and keyboardist of the band Steely Dan, formed in the early 70s. He has also released four albums as a solo artist, and in 2001 was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. The 2017 death of Steely Dan’s co-founder Walter Becker leaves Fagen as Steely Dan’s sole member.

Steely Dan American rock band

Steely Dan is an American rock band founded in 1972 by core members Walter Becker and Donald Fagen. Blending rock, jazz, traditional pop, R&B, and sophisticated studio production with cryptic and ironic lyrics, the band enjoyed critical and commercial success starting from the early 1970s until breaking up in 1981. Throughout their career, the duo recorded with a revolving cast of session musicians, and in 1974 retired from live performances to become a studio-only band. Rolling Stone has called them "the perfect musical antiheroes for the Seventies".

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Hall of fame located on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, United States

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie, recognizes and archives the history of the best-known and most influential artists, producers, engineers, and other notable figures who have had some major influence on the development of rock and roll. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was established on April 20, 1983, by Ahmet Ertegun, founder and chairman of Atlantic Records. In 1986, Cleveland was chosen as the Hall of Fame's permanent home.

Walter Becker American musician

Walter Carl Becker was an American musician, songwriter, and record producer. He was best known as the co-founder, guitarist, bassist, and co-songwriter of the jazz rock band Steely Dan.


Early life

Fagen was born in Passaic, New Jersey, on January 10, 1948, [1] to Jewish parents, Joseph "Jerry" Fagen, an accountant, and his wife, Elinor, a homemaker who had been a swing singer in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains from childhood through her teens. [2] [3] His family moved to the suburb of Fair Lawn around 1958 and soon after to a house on Bedford Road in the Kendall Park section of South Brunswick, New Jersey. The transition upset him. He detested living in the suburbs. He later recalled that it "was like a prison. I think I lost faith in [my parents'] judgment... It was probably the first time I realized I had my own view of life." His life in Kendall Park, including his teenage love of late-night radio, [4] inspired his later album The Nightfly . [2]

Passaic, New Jersey City in Passaic County, New Jersey, U.S.

Passaic is a city in Passaic County, New Jersey, United States. As of the 2010 United States Census, the city had a total population of 69,781, maintaining its status as the 15th largest municipality in New Jersey with an increase of 1,920 residents (+2.8%) from the 2000 Census population of 67,861, which had in turn increased by 9,820 (+16.9%) from the 58,041 counted in the 1990 Census. Passaic is the tenth most densely populated municipality in the entire United States with 22,000+ people per square mile.

American Jews Ethnic group

American Jews, or Jewish Americans, are Americans who are Jews, whether by religion, ethnicity, or nationality. Today the Jewish community in the United States consists primarily of Ashkenazi Jews, who descend from diaspora Jewish populations of Central and Eastern Europe and comprise about 90-95% of the American Jewish population. Most American Ashkenazim are US-born, with a dwindling number of now-elderly earlier immigrants, as well as some more recent foreign-born immigrants.

Accountant practitioner of accountancy or accounting

An accountant is a practitioner of accounting or accountancy, which is the measurement, disclosure or provision of assurance about financial information that helps managers, investors, tax authorities and others make decisions about allocating resource(s).

Fagen became interested in rock and rhythm and blues (R&B) in the late 1950s. The first record he bought was "Reelin' and Rockin'" by Chuck Berry. [2] At age eleven, a cousin recommended jazz music and Fagen went to the Newport Jazz Festival, becoming what he called a "jazz snob": "I lost interest in rock 'n' roll and started developing an anti-social personality." [5] In the early 1960s, beginning at age twelve, he often went to the Village Vanguard, where he was particularly impressed by Earl Hines, Willie "The Lion" Smith, and Bill Evans. [6] He regularly took the bus to Manhattan to see performances by jazz musicians Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis. He learned to play the piano, and he played baritone horn in the high school marching band. [5] He developed a lifelong fondness for table tennis. [7] In his late teens he was drawn to soul music, funk, Motown, and Sly and the Family Stone. He has also expressed admiration for the Boswell Sisters, Henry Mancini, and Ray Charles. [6]

Rhythm and blues, commonly abbreviated as R&B, is a genre of popular music that originated in African American communities in the 1940s. The term was originally used by record companies to describe recordings marketed predominantly to urban African Americans, at a time when "urbane, rocking, jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat" was becoming more popular. In the commercial rhythm and blues music typical of the 1950s through the 1970s, the bands usually consisted of piano, one or two guitars, bass, drums, one or more saxophones, and sometimes background vocalists. R&B lyrical themes often encapsulate the African-American experience of pain and the quest for freedom and joy, as well as triumphs and failures in terms of relationships, economics, and aspirations.

Reelin and Rockin single by Chuck Berry

"Reelin' and Rockin'" is a song written and recorded by Chuck Berry. It was originally recorded in 1957 and released as the B-side of "Sweet Little Sixteen."

Chuck Berry American rock-and-roll guitarist, singer, songwriter

Charles Edward Anderson Berry was an American singer and songwriter, and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music. With songs such as "Maybellene" (1955), "Roll Over Beethoven" (1956), "Rock and Roll Music" (1957) and "Johnny B. Goode" (1958), Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive. Writing lyrics that focused on teen life and consumerism, and developing a music style that included guitar solos and showmanship, Berry was a major influence on subsequent rock music.

After graduating from South Brunswick High School in 1965, he enrolled at Bard College to study English literature, having been inspired by Allen Ginsberg, Jack Kerouac, and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. [8] At Bard he met musician Walter Becker. With a revolving assortment of musicians which included future actor Chevy Chase, Becker and Fagen formed the bands the Leather Canary, the Don Fagen Jazz Trio, and the Bad Rock Band. [9] Fagen described 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 did. The duo's early career included working with Jay and the Americans, for which they used pseudonyms. In the early 1970s they worked as pop songwriters for ABC/Dunhill Records, which released all of Steely Dan's 1970s albums.

South Brunswick High School (New Jersey)

South Brunswick High School (SBHS) is a comprehensive community public high school serving students in ninth through twelfth grades at the school located in the Monmouth Junction section of South Brunswick, in Middlesex County, New Jersey, United States, operating as the lone secondary school of the South Brunswick Public Schools. The school has been accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Secondary Schools since 1965.

Bard College private liberal arts college in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York

Bard College is a private liberal arts college in Annandale-on-Hudson, New York. The campus overlooks the Hudson River and Catskill Mountains, and is within the Hudson River Historic District, a National Historic Landmark.

Allen Ginsberg American poet and philosopher

Irwin Allen Ginsberg was an American poet, philosopher and writer. He is considered to be one of the leading figures of both the Beat Generation during the 1950s and the counterculture that soon followed. He vigorously opposed militarism, economic materialism, and sexual repression and was known as embodying various aspects of this counterculture, such as his views on drugs, hostility to bureaucracy and openness to Eastern religions. He was one of many influential American writers of his time who were associated with the Beat Generation, including Jack Kerouac and William S. Burroughs.


Steely Dan

Donald Fagen met Walter Becker in a coffee house at Bard College in 1967. [11] They began to form Steely Dan in the summer of 1970, after a Village Voice ad for a bassist and keyboard player with jazz chops was placed by guitarist Denny Dias, which was answered by Fagen and Becker. Denny Dias was immediately impressed by the pair's abilities, and particularly by the fact that they already had a whole stack of original material. [12] The group's first lineup was assembled in December 1971 in Los Angeles, California, where Becker and Fagen had relocated to work as staff songwriters for ABC/Dunhill. Becker and Fagen formed the core of the band and wrote all the songs, with Becker on bass, and later lead guitar, and Fagen on keyboards and vocal.

Dennis "Denny" Dias is an American guitarist, best known for being a founding member of Steely Dan.

After the release of their third LP in 1974, the other members left or were fired from the band, which evolved into a studio project headed by Becker and Fagen. Steely Dan's bestselling album was 1977's Aja , which was certified platinum. Three years later, they released Gaucho . Their next album wasn't until 1995, when they released the live album Alive in America . It was followed by the multiple Grammy Award winning Two Against Nature in 2000, and Steely Dan’s final album Everything Must Go in 2003. A concert DVD, Two Against Nature, included material from much of the band's history.

<i>Aja</i> (album) 1977 studio album by Steely Dan

Aja is the sixth studio album by the jazz rock band Steely Dan. Originally released in 1977 on ABC Records, the album peaked at number three on the US charts and number five in the UK. It was the band's first platinum album and ultimately became their best-selling studio release, eventually selling over 5 million copies. It spawned a number of hit singles, including "Peg", "Deacon Blues", and "Josie". In July 1978, the album won the Grammy Award for Best Engineered Non-Classical Recording. The credits for Aja list nearly 40 musicians, as band leaders Donald Fagen and Walter Becker pushed Steely Dan further into experimenting with different combinations of session players.

<i>Gaucho</i> (album) 1980 studio album by Steely Dan

Gaucho is the seventh studio album by the American rock band Steely Dan, released on November 21, 1980, by MCA Records. The sessions for Gaucho represent the band's typical penchant for studio perfectionism and obsessive recording technique. To record the album, the band used at least 42 different musicians, spent over a year in the studio, and far exceeded the original monetary advance given by the record label.

<i>Alive in America</i> 1995 live album by Steely Dan

Alive in America is a live album by the American jazz rock group Steely Dan, released in 1995. It is Steely Dan's first live album. The album comprises recordings from their 1993 and 1994 tours, which were the first live Steely Dan performances since 1974.

Solo career

After Steely Dan's breakup in 1981, Fagen released his debut solo album, The Nightfly , in October 1982. It was certified platinum for sales of over a million copies in the U.S. and reached 11 on the Billboard Top 200 albums list. [13] The first single, "I.G.Y.", released in September 1982, [14] peaked at number 26 on the Hot 100. The follow-up single, "New Frontier" (January 1983 [15] ), peaked at number 70 and was accompanied by a music video. The Nightfly was nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year. In 2002, Rhino Records released a DVD-Audio version of The Nightfly in honor of the album's 20th anniversary. The bonus track, "True Companion", from The Nightfly Trilogy MVI Boxed Set is track seven on the Heavy Metal film soundtrack. Fagen also contributed "Century's End" to the soundtrack for the 1988 Michael J. Fox film, Bright Lights, Big City .

During the rest of the 1980s, Fagen contributed to soundtracks and wrote a column for Premiere magazine. In the early 1990s, he toured with the New York Rock and Soul Revue. [16] Becker and Fagen reunited in 1986 to work on the debut album by model and singer Rosie Vela. [17] Fagen co-produced and played keyboards on Walter Becker's solo album debut 11 Tracks of Whack (1994). Becker produced Fagen's second album, Kamakiriad (1993), which was nominated for the Grammy Award for Album of the Year and reached number 10 on the Top 200 albums chart. [13]

Fagen's third solo album, Morph the Cat , was released on March 14, 2006, and featured Wayne Krantz (guitar), Jon Herington (guitar), Keith Carlock (drums), Freddie Washington (bass), Ted Baker (piano), and Walt Weiskopf (sax). It reached 26 on Billboard Top 200 albums list. [13] Morph the Cat was named Album of the Year by Mix magazine. The 5.1 surround sound mix won the Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Album. [18]

Fagen's first three albums were released in a box set, The Nightfly Trilogy, in the MVI (Music Video Interactive) format. Each album features DTS 5.1, Dolby 5.1 and PCM Stereo mix but no MLP encoded track, along with bonus audio and video content.

Fagen's fourth album, Sunken Condos , was released in 2012. It reached 12 on the Billboard Top 200 albums list. [13]

In 2012, Fagen toured with the Dukes of September, featuring Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs. One of the concerts was recorded at Lincoln Center in New York City and broadcast on PBS Great Performances in 2014. [19]

In October 2013 Fagen published an autobiography titled Eminent Hipsters.

Fagen frequently uses aliases. He wrote the liner notes to Can't Buy a Thrill under the name Tristan Fabriani, which he used on stage when he played keyboards for Jay and the Americans (Becker used Gus Mahler). On his solo albums, when he played or programmed a synthesizer part to replicate a real instrument (bass, vibraphone, horns) he credited one of his aliases: Illinois Elohainu, Phonus Quaver, or Harlan Post.[ citation needed ]

Musical style

Fagen has classified himself as both a self-taught pianist and a self-taught vocalist, although he did spend a few semesters studying formally at Berklee College of Music and took some vocal lessons in the mid-1970s as a precaution after feeling the straining effects of years of touring. Although he learned to become an entertainer, early on Fagen suffered from severe stage fright, which prompted Steely Dan producer Gary Katz to hire David Palmer to sing two songs on Steely Dan's debut album, Can't Buy a Thrill . This also led to the hiring of Royce Jones and Michael McDonald as singers in the band's tours in the early 1970s. Fagen plays the Fender Rhodes electric piano and Wurlitzer electric piano.

Personal life

Fagen's cousin Alan Rosenberg is an actor who was president of the Screen Actors Guild, while his cousin Mark Rosenberg was an activist in Students for a Democratic Society and a film producer. [20]

In 1993 Fagen married songwriter Libby Titus. Although the two attended Bard College at around the same time, they did not become friends until 1987 when they were backstage at a Dr. John concert. On January 4, 2016, Titus sustained injuries after Fagen allegedly shoved her against a marble window frame at their Upper East Side apartment. [21] Titus informed the New York Post that she was divorcing her husband. [22] The two have since reconciled. [23]

Titus co-wrote the song "Florida Room" on the 1993 album Kamakiriad . Fagen has performed with Amy Helm, daughter of Libby Titus and musician Levon Helm. [24]



Studio albums

YearAlbum detailsPeak chart positions Certifications
(sales thresholds)
1982 The Nightfly 11-169844
1993 Kamakiriad
  • Released: May 25, 1993
  • Label: Reprise
2006 Morph the Cat
  • Released: March 7, 2006
  • Label: Reprise
2012 Sunken Condos
  • Released: October 16, 2012
  • Label: Reprise [36]


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<i>The Nightfly</i> 1982 studio album by Donald Fagen

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Kamakiriad is the second solo album by Steely Dan artist Donald Fagen, released in 1993. It was his first collaboration since 1980 with Steely Dan partner Walter Becker, who produced the album. The album is a futuristic, optimistic eight-song cycle about the journey of the narrator in his high-tech car, the Kamakiri. It was nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year in 1993.

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"Aja" is a jazz rock song by the American rock band Steely Dan from the album of the same name, released in 1977. It was composed by Walter Becker and Donald Fagen, the band's two members, who respectively play guitar and synthesizer on the track, with various studio musicians playing the other parts; Fagen sings lead vocals. Production duties were handled by Gary Katz; ABC Records released the album. Musically, it is a tonally sophisticated and structurally complex work that was praised on its release as the most ambitious song the duo had ever attempted. The song's lyrics are the interior monologue of a man who "run[s] to" the title character to escape the stresses of his life "up on the hill." Fagen claims it was inspired by a relative of someone he knew, who had married a Korean woman named Aja. He has described the song as being about the "tranquility that can come of a quiet relationship with a beautiful woman."

Drew Zingg is an American rock, blues, soul and jazz guitarist, best known for his performing with Steely Dan and Boz Scaggs.


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