Sumitra Nanjundan was the daughter of Indian parents. She was born in New York City. Her family moved to Vienna, where she attended an English primary school at age 2. At age five, she began musical training and moved to the UK at the age of ten to attend boarding school. The performer eventually attended the University of Massachusetts. There she met Max Roach and Archie Shepp and was able to hear concerts by Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, and other jazz legends. Unsatisfied with her business major for two years, Sumitra left school to return to Vienna to take the entrance exam at Vienna Academy of Music. However, she became distracted by classical pursuits when she joined her first band, Satu as a singer and writer. Sumitra left Satu and began to work with Peter Josel, a jazz pianist who also brought in Peter Legat, the current leader of Count Basic, who helped her connect with other jazz musicians. In the late 1990s, Sumitra was a regular performer at Porgy, a well-known Vienna jazz club.