Donald Fagen was born in Passaic, New Jersey, on January 10, 1948, 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. 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, inspired his album The Nightfly.
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. At age eleven, he was recommended music by a cousin and 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.” 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. 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. He developed a lifelong fondness for table tennis. 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.
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. 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. Fagen 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 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. – Wikipedia