'Bluejay' Spreads His Wings

How A Young Musical Genius Scored A Major Recording Deal

Jay Greenberg is an American composer who some say is the greatest musical genius to come along in 200 years. He wrote five symphonies by the time he was 13 years old.

Correspondent Scott Pelley first met Jay two years ago when his works were being performed on stage; the story was seen by executives at Sony BMG, who signed Jay as a recording artist. Recently, Pelley caught up with the young composer again in Britain, where the London Symphony Orchestra was recording Jay's fifth symphony.



Jay, who signs his works with the nickname "Bluejay," is 14 now. When he caught the ear of 60 Minutes in 2004, this remarkable boy was only 12 years old and had written a piece called "The Storm," commissioned by the New Haven Symphony in Connecticut.

He wrote every note for each and every instrument — and the really amazing part is that he wrote it in just a few hours.

Composer Sam Zyman says we haven't seen his like in probably 200 years. "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," he tells Pelley.

Zyman taught music theory to Jay at the Julliard School in New York, where he has been teaching 19 years.

"This is an absolute fact. This is objective. This is not a subjective opinion," Zyman says. "Jay could be sitting here, and he could be composing right now. He could finish a piano sonata before our eyes in probably 25 minutes. And it would be a great piece."

How is it possible? Jay told Pelley he doesn't know where the music comes from — but that it comes fully written, playing like an orchestra in his head.

"As you hear it playing, can you change it as it goes along? Can you say to yourself, 'Oh, let's bring the oboes in here,' or 'Let's bring the string section here?'" Pelley asks.

"No, they seem — they seem to come in by themselves if they need to," Jay replies. "It's as if the unconscious mind is giving orders at the speed of light. You know, I mean, so I just hear it as if it were a smooth performance of a work that is already written when it isn't."

Jay's parents are as surprised by his talent as anyone. Neither of them is a professional musician. His father, Robert, is a linguist, a scholar in Slavic languages who lost his sight at the age of 36 to retinitis pigmentosa. His mother, Orna, is an Israeli-born painter.

Michael, Jay's 10-year-old brother, is not a musical prodigy, but Robert and Orna remember when they figured out that Jay was.

"I think around, two, when he started writing and actually drawing instruments, we knew that he was fascinated with it," his mother explains.

At the ago of 2, she says, Jay started writing and managed to draw and ask for a cello. "I was surprised, because neither of us have anything to do with string instruments. And I didn't expect him to know what it was," Orna says.

"What a cello was?" Pelley asks.

"Right," she replies.

Orna says there was no cello in the house and that her son had never seen a cello before. But he knew he wanted one.

So his mother brought him to a music store where he was shown a miniature cello. "And he just sat there. He put the cello. And he started playing on it. And I was like, 'How do you know how to do this?'" Orna remembers.
  • Daniel Schorn

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