Jazz Keyboardist Lyle Mays Dies at 66
He was best known for his work with Pat Metheny Group
Published Feb 11, 2020Lyle Mays — a jazz keyboardist and composer known best for his work with Pat Metheny Group — has died. A statement released by friend and collaborator Metheny revealed Mays passed away Monday (February 10) at his Los Angeles home "after a long battle with a recurring illness." He was 66.
"Lyle was one of the greatest musicians I have ever known," Metheny wrote of his most frequent collaborator. "Across more than 30 years, every moment we shared in music was special. From the first notes we played together, we had an immediate bond. His broad intelligence and musical wisdom informed every aspect of who he was in every way. I will miss him with all my heart."
Pat Metheny Group bassist Steve Rodby added, "I had the great privilege of having Lyle in my life for decades, as an inspiration and as my friend. As anyone who knew him and his music will agree, there will only be one Lyle, and we all will continue to appreciate his soulful brilliance, in so many ways."
Mays's niece, Aubrey Johnson, called the artist "a brilliant musician and person, and a genius in every sense of the word. He was my dear uncle, mentor, and friend and words cannot express the depth of my grief."
Born in Wausaukee, WI, in 1953, Mays began studying piano as a child and began playing organ in church at age 14. After attending the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire and the University of North Texas, Mays toured with the Woody Herman Orchestra ahead of meeting Metheny in 1974.
Mays contributed to Metheny's 1977 solo album Watercolors ahead of co-founding Pat Metheny Group that same year. The band released a debut self-titled album through ECM in 1978, ahead of breaking out the following year with sophomore LP American Garage.
As core members of the outfit, Mays and Metheny composed and arranged the majority of Pat Metheny Group's music, capturing 11 Grammy Awards in just over 20 years. Accolades from the Recording Academy include five awards for Best Jazz Fusion Performance, five awards for Best Contemporary Jazz Album and a lone win for Best Rock Instrumental Performance.
Mays also composed and recorded music for film, theatre productions and children's records. In 1985, he and his PMG bandmates collaborated with David Bowie on "This Is Not America," a single from the band's soundtrack to American spy drama The Falcon and the Snowman.
Outside of his work with Pat Metheny Group, Mays released a self-titled solo album in 1986, following that Street Dreams and Fictionary in 1988 and 1993, respectively. His most recent solo recording was 2016's The Ludwigsburg Concert.
As a sideman, Mays appears on albums by Joni Mitchell, Earth, Wind & Fire, Bob Moses, Rickie Lee Jones, Bobby McFerrin and more.