Fagen is rarely photographed without his copy of “Sonny Rollins and the Contemporary Leaders” album nearby.
The Nightfly came out during the time I attended Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge, LA. I recall strolling through LSU’s Quadrangle late one night and as I glanced over to see the library, I noticed that someone had spray painted on the concrete wall fronting the building, in large capital letters, “I’M LESTER THE NIGHTFLY HELLO BATON ROUGE.” I chuckled to myself thinking that at least this vandal’s got good taste in music.
The title song from Fagan’s solo album is set in this town, but really, the Red Stick was merely used as a prop to tell the story of a lonely DJ spinning jazz records and taking calls from the lunatic fringe in the middle of the night. There was no WJAZ radio station there, nor any “Mount Belzoni” in Baton Rouge, or any mountain anywhere in the state of Louisiana, for that matter.
That tale of a melancholy late-night radio show host belies what’s going on with the music behind it, which is relentlessly bouncy thanks to an unyielding rhythm section of Marcus Miller and Jeff Porcaro, and those are just two of the all-star session players on this date. The musicianship, as usual for anything Steely Dan, makes the song unforgettable. In the case of “The Nightfly,” so does the opening line, because, as Fagen sang on an earlier tune, they wrote it on the wall.