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Greenberg was born in New Haven, Connecticut. He caught the attention of the American media through the sponsorship of Juilliard instructor Samuel Zyman during a CBS News60 Minutes broadcast on November 28, 2004, when Greenberg was 12, and again in November 2006. Zyman told 60 Minutes, "We are talking about a prodigy of the level of the greatest prodigies in history, when it comes to composition. I am talking about the likes of Mozart, and Mendelssohn, and Saint-Saëns."
Greenberg's primary composition instructor was Samuel Adler.
Greenberg has said he hears the music performed inside his head, like many composers, and often several musical pieces simultaneously, and he is then able to simply notate what he has listened to, and rarely needs to make corrections to what he has notated.
^Barrymore Laurence Scherer, A History of American Classical Music. Naperville, Illinois: Sourcebooks, Inc. (2007): 227. "Prodigy Jay Greenberg (b. 1991) whose Fifth Symphony, begun when he was twelve, and String Quintet (both recorded in 2006), bespeak extraordinary gifts."