Donald Fagen, right, in concert with Steely Dan in Luzern, Switzerland, 2007.
|Birth name||Donald Jay Fagen|
|Also known as||Illinois Elohainu, Phonus Quaver, Harlan Post, Tristan Fabriani|
January 10, 1948 |
Passaic, New Jersey, U.S.
|Instruments||Vocals, keyboards, saxophone, melodica|
|Labels||ABC, MCA, Giant, Reprise, Warner Bros.|
|Associated acts||Jay & the Americans, Steely Dan, Dukes of September|
Following the initial breakup of Steely Dan in 1981, Fagen launched a long-running, if sporadic, solo career in 1982, spawning four albums to date.
In 1993, Fagen and Becker reunited and have since toured and released albums as Steely Dan.
Fagen was born in Passaic, New Jersey, on January 10, 1948, to Jewish parents Joseph "Jerry" Fagen, an accountant, and his wife, Elinor, who had been a singer in upstate New York's Catskill Mountains. His first cousins Alan (actor, president of the Screen Actors Guild) and Mark Rosenberg (SDS leader and film producer, d. 1992) also grew up in Passaic.
The Fagen family moved from Passaic first to the suburb of Fair Lawn around 1958, then quickly moved and settled into a house on Bedford Road in the Kendall Park section of South Brunswick, New Jersey. The transition greatly upset him since he detested living in the suburbs. He would later recall to an interviewer 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, later inspired tracks on his album The Nightfly.
Fagen became interested in rock and R&B music in the late 1950s. His first record purchase was Chuck Berry's "Reelin' and Rockin'". 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." Fagen regularly took the bus to Manhattan to see Charles Mingus, Sonny Rollins, Thelonious Monk, and Miles Davis perform. Soon afterwards, he learned to play the piano, and also played baritone horn in the high school marching band. Fagen also began a lifelong fondness for table tennis during his teenage years.
After graduating from South Brunswick High School 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. 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. Fagen later described his college bands as sounding like "The Kingsmen performing Frank Zappa material". None of the groups lasted long, but the partnership between Fagen and Becker would. The duo's early career included a stint with Jay and the Americans (where they went by pseudonyms), and in the early 1970s, as pop songwriters for ABC/Dunhill Records, which released all of Steely Dan's 1970s output.
Fagen met Becker at a college coffee house at Bard College in 1967. Responding to an ad in The Village Voice in the summer of 1970, Fagen and Becker met guitarist Denny Dias and started a musical partnership that formed the basis of what would become Steely Dan. However, the original group's line-up would only be assembled in full around December 1971 in Los Angeles, California, to where Becker and Fagen had relocated, initially to work as staff song writers for ABC/Dunhill. Fagen and Becker 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, which evolved into a studio project headed by Becker and Fagen. 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: 2000's Two Against Nature which won several Grammys, Everything Must Go (2003), as well as the live CD Alive in America (1995) and a live concert DVD entitled Two Against Nature, which included material spanning much of the band's history.
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. Its premiere single was "I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World)". 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 and 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 20th 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. Kamakiriad was also nominated for a Grammy Award for Album of the Year.
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 and was later named Album of the Year by Mix magazine. Fagen was also given 'Producer of the Year' award.The 5.1 mix of Morph the Cat won the 2007 Grammy Award for Best Surround Sound Album.
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.
To support Morph the Cat, Fagen embarked on his first solo tour, and played dates across the US, with one date in Canada. 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. 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. 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.
In the spring of 2010, Fagen stated plans to record a fourth solo album which will be lighter in tone and not an extension of the Nightfly trilogy, anticipating a 2012 release. On August 13, 2012, the album title was revealed to be Sunken Condos and the release date October 16.
In 2012, Fagen also started a second tour with The Dukes of September Rhythm Revue, which included Michael McDonald and Boz Scaggs.
Fagen has classified himself as both a self-taught pianist and self-taught vocalist, although he did spend a few semesters studying formally at Berklee College of Music. He is said[by whom?] to have taken 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 originally 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 additional singers in the band's early 1970s' tours. Fagen's name routinely appears on all-time underrated lists when talking about rock singers and his influence and phrasing can be heard in artists such as Joe Jackson, Ben Folds, Bruce Hornsby, and Elvis Costello. Fagen plays keyboards on many of his own songs. He predominately features the Fender Rhodes Electric Piano and Wurlitzer Electric Piano driving the chord progressions. He's often a featured soloist as well contributing piano (Fire in the Hole), electric piano (Your Gold Teeth), organ (Do it Again, My Rival, etc.), synthesizer (Home at Last, Lunch with Gina, I.G.Y. (What a Beautiful World), etc.) and saxophone (East St. Louis Toodle-oo).
Collaborations with other artists
In 1978 he coproduced, with Walter Becker, Apogee, an album of straight-ahead jazz featuring Warne Marsh and Pete Christlieb, both on tenor, and Lou Levy on piano. Also co-wrote, with Walter Becker, "Rapunzel", the third track on the album.
In 1980 he sang background vocals on Far Cry's album (The More Things Change).
Fagen'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.
Starting in 2008 Fagen made regular appearances with the Levon Helm Band, performing at Helm's Midnight Ramble concerts in Woodstock, New York. He plays keyboards and sings with his step-daughter, Amy Helm (Amy's mother is Fagen's wife, Libby Titus).
In 2013 he reported that he was producing a second album by the band Oh Whitney.
In 1978 Steely Dan recorded "FM (No Static at All)" (sometimes referred to as "FM"). It is the title theme to the film FM. The soundtrack to the film won the 1979 Grammy Award for Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical, with engineers Roger Nichols and Al Schmitt taking the honors. This was the first single Steely Dan released on MCA Records (which had released the soundtrack), predating MCA's acquisition of ABC Records by one year.
He wrote "The Finer Things", which appeared on the soundtrack to the Martin Scorsese 1983 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.
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 his website. His website also features other articles he has written, such as ones for Slate.com.
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.
Fagen frequently uses aliases. He wrote the liner notes to Can't Buy a Thrill under the name Tristan Fabriani, which he would use on stage when he played keyboards for Jay and the Americans, (Becker would use Gus Mahler). On his solo albums, when he plays or programs a synthesizer part to replicate a real instrument (bass, vibraphone, horns, etc.) he will credit one of his aliases – Illinois Elohainu, Phonus Quaver, or Harlan Post.
In October 2013, Fagen published a collection of essays and autobiographical material titled "Eminent Hipsters" with Viking Adult publishing company.
|Year||Album details||Peak chart positions||Certifications
|2006||Morph the Cat
- 2007 The Nightfly Trilogy (3-MVI DVD + 4-CD Box Set)
In 2010, Fagen was added to the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers' Jazz Wall of Fame.
In 1993, Fagen married fellow songwriter Libby Titus. Although the two had attended Bard College at around the same time, they did not become friends until 1987 when they both went backstage after a Dr. John concert. Libby Titus co-wrote the song "Florida Room," which appears on 1993's album Kamakiriad.
Fagen is Jewish; his writings and interviews show a close identification with Jewish culture, but indicate skepticism about all religion. Donald celebrated his bar mitzvah at Kendall Park's Congregation Beth Shalom in 1961, a synagogue his father helped found.
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