Born in 1971 and raised in Rochester, New York, Vijay Iyer is the son of Indian Tamil immigrants to the US. He received 15 years of Western classical training on violin beginning at the age of 3. He began playing the piano by ear in his childhood, and is mostly self-taught on that instrument. Vijay was also exposed to some Carnatic classical and religious music in his youth. His high school years saw a growing interest in jazz. After completing an undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics at Yale University when he was 20, Iyer then went to the University of California, Berkeley to do a Ph.D. in Technology and the Arts. His 1998 dissertation was titled Macrostructures of Sound: Embodied Cognition in West African and African-American Musics. Vijay continued to pursue his jazz interests and served as the house pianist in jam sessions at the Bird Kage, a famous club in North Oakland, which featured some of the best local musicians such as Ed Kelly and Smily Winters, as well as guest luminaries such as Pharoah Sanders. This greatly enriched his understanding of the jazz idiom and the lived jazz experience. In an interview with A Shuman (April, 1997), Iyer states "I found that the music we were playing was a profound expression of their lives, and the lives of the audience members as well."