1 December 1950, New York City, New York, USA. Of Armenian descent, Donelian studied music formally from an early age, chiefly at Westchester Conservatory of Music, White Plains, New York, and also at Columbia University in New York City. Meanwhile, he also assimilated folk music of Armenian origin as well as that of neighbouring countries in the eastern Mediterranean region. Although his formal musical education was classical, from his early teens he was also interested in jazz and played in a band led by guitarist Art Ryerson, Snr. Following his graduation in 1972, Donelian began playing jazz in New York, including spells with pianist Richie Beirach and percussionist Mongo Santamaría. With the latter he recorded and also provided compositions, some of which were featured on Santamarías 1976 Grammy Award-winning Sofrito.
Through the late 70s and early 80s, Donelian worked regularly with noted jazz artists such as Sonny...