Lyle Mays

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Lyle Mays
Birth nameLyle David Mays
Born(1953-11-27)November 27, 1953
Wausaukee, Wisconsin, U.S.
DiedFebruary 10, 2020(2020-02-10) (aged 66)
Los Angeles, California, U.S.
GenresJazz, Contemporary jazz
Instrument(s)Piano, keyboards
Years active1975–2020
LabelsECM, Geffen, Warner Bros.

Lyle David Mays (November 27, 1953 – February 10, 2020)[1] was an American jazz pianist, composer, and member of the Pat Metheny Group.[2][3] Metheny and Mays composed and arranged nearly all of the group's music, for which Mays won eleven Grammy Awards.[4]

External image
image icon Portrait of Lyle Mays by Michel Delsol (1988)


While growing up in rural Wisconsin, Mays had a lot of curiosity but had to learn many things all by himself due to a lack of available resources and information. He had four main interests: chess, mathematics, architecture, and music. His mother Doris played piano and organ, and his father Cecil, a truck driver, taught himself to play guitar by ear.[5] His teacher allowed him to practice improvisation after the structured elements of the lesson were completed. At the age of nine, he played the organ at a family member's wedding, and fourteen he began to play in church.[6] During his senior year of high school, at summer national stage band camp in Normal, Illinois, he was introduced to jazz pianist Marian McPartland.[4]

Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival and Filles de Kilimanjaro by Miles Davis (both recorded in 1968) were important influences. He attended the University of North Texas after transferring from the University of Wisconsin–Eau Claire.[7][8][9] He composed and arranged for the One O'Clock Lab Band and was the composer and arranger for the Grammy Award-nominated album Lab 75.[10]

After leaving the University of North Texas, Mays toured in the US and Europe with Woody Herman's jazz big band, Thundering Herds, for approximately eight months. In 1975 he met Pat Metheny at the Wichita Jazz Festival and later founded the Pat Metheny Group. Mays had an extraordinary career as a core musical architect and sound designer of the group for more than three decades. He won total 11 Grammy awards and was nominated 23 times.[11]

After the Pat Metheny Group’s long-form recording The Way Up in 2005, and the unofficial Songbook Tour in Europe and Japan in 2010, Mays decided to retire from public music performance, although he did perform at the Western Michigan University Jazz Club in 2010 and at a Ted Talk event[12] at Caltech in 2011 with his own groups. In an interview with JAZZIZ magazine in 2016, Mays said he had been working as a software development manager because of changes in the music industry.[13][14]


Mays composed, orchestrated, and arranged as a core member of the Pat Metheny Group, playing piano, organ, synthesizers, and occasionally trumpet, accordion,[15] agogô bells,[16] autoharp,[17] toy xylophone,[18] and electric guitar.[19] He composed and recorded children's audiobooks, such as East of the Sun, West of the Moon, Moses the Lawgiver, The Lion and the Lamb, The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher, and Tale of Peter Rabbit with text read by Meryl Streep.[4] In 1985, Metheny's and Mays's compositions were performed by the Steppenwolf Theater in Chicago in the critically-acclaimed production of Orphans by Lyle Kessler.[20] Lyle's Oberheim analog synth pad and his voice counting the second hand of a clock at the recording session, "55..., 3..," which can be heard from the bridge part of "As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls (1981)," was used for Christian Dior's Fahrenheit Cologne commercials for almost 30 years, from 1988 to 2016.[21]

He was regarded by both professional musicians and music fans as one of the most innovative and creative contemporary jazz pianists and keyboardists, but as a composer, he was even more serious about classical music in terms of advanced harmonic aesthetics and structural development through long forms. He composed several contemporary classical pieces, such as "Twelve Days in the Shadow of a Miracle", a piece for harp, flute, viola, and synthesizer recorded in 1996 by the Debussy Trio.[22] Mays also composed “Distance” for Pat Metheny Group’s Grammy-winning and RIAA-certified Gold album, Still Life (1987, Geffen), "Mindwalk" [23] in 2009 for renowned marimba player, Nancy Zeltsman, and previously "Somewhere in Maine" [24] in 1988 for her duo with violinist Sharan Leventhal, Marimolin, and “Street Dreams 3” for his solo album, Street Dreams (Geffen, 1988) with top classical performers in New York City.

Apart from the Metheny group, he recorded or performed in a trio with Marc Johnson (contrabass), Jack DeJohnette (drums), and Peter Erskine (drums) and formed the Lyle Mays Quartet with Marc Johnson or Eric Hochberg (contrabass), Mark Walker (drums), and Bob Sheppard (saxophone). Naxos Germany released the quartet’s live album The Ludwigsburg Concert recorded in 1993 and released in 2015.[25]

He collaborated with electronic keyboard instrument makers, Kurzweil and Korg, to develop their new sounds since he had great knowledge of both computer programming and music synthesis that he learned by himself.

The renowned R&B/funk group, Earth, Wind & Fire, recorded Lyle's most beloved original composition from his first solo album, "Close to Home" for their 1990 album, Heritage as an interlude and he participated in the arranging and recording session for the piece.[26] The prominent Brazilian singer-songwriter, Milton Nascimento, also recorded a remake version of the same piece, "Quem é Você," with Portuguese lyrics for his 1991 album, O Planeta Blue Na Estrada Do Sol.[27] Another Brazilian singer, Zizi Possi, sang "Quem é Você" for her 1994 album, Valsa Brasileira. [28]

Since Mays was a young child, he enthusiastically exhibited his architectural fantasies with LEGO bricks and kept the passion until his late years.[29] As an amateur architect, he designed his own house, home studio, and his sister Joan's house in Wisconsin.

Mays was particularly influenced by the legendary American architect, designer, the father of American modernism, and fellow Wisconsinian, Frank Lloyd Wright.[30] Mays brought intellectual and organic architectural concepts in his music and sound design based on the innovative integration of many different sources to create a completely new soundscape as Wright achieved through his unique architectural landscape.

Death and legacy[edit]

Mays died in Los Angeles at the age of 66 on February 10, 2020 "after a long battle with a recurring illness".[1]

Mays was posthumously awarded the Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Composition at the 64th Annual Grammy Awards in 2022 for his composition "Eberhard".[31]


As leader/co-leader[edit]

As member[edit]

One O'Clock Lab Band

  • Lab 74 (NTSU Lab Jazz, 1974)
  • Lab 75 (NTSU Lab Jazz, 1975)

Pat Metheny Group

As sideman[edit]

With Pat Metheny

With others

Film & Audio Book Scoring[edit]

  • The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher & The Tale of Peter Rabbit (Rabbit Ears, 1988)
  • East of the Sun, West of the Moon (Short Video) (Rabbit Ears, 1991)
  • Moses the Lawgiver (Rabbit Ears, 1993)
  • Mustang: The Hidden Kingdom (TV Movie documentary, 1994)
  • The Lion and the Lamb (Short Animation) (Rabbit Ears, 1996)


  1. ^ a b West, Michael J. (February 11, 2020). "Lyle Mays 1953–2020". JazzTimes. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  2. ^ "NTSU Lab Band Record on Sale". Denton Record-Chronicle. October 2, 1974. p. 22. Retrieved December 5, 2014 – via open access
  3. ^ "Grammy Nomination to Lab Band Album". The Courier-Gazette. January 30, 1976. p. 2. Retrieved December 5, 2014 – via open access
  4. ^ a b c "Lyle Mays at UNT Division of Jazz Studies". University of North Texas. Archived from the original on November 22, 2016. Retrieved March 19, 2010.
  5. ^ Keepnews, Peter (February 12, 2020). "Lyle Mays, 66, Pat Metheny Group Keyboardist, Is Dead". The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  6. ^
  7. ^ "The State: Telephone directory for Baldwin and Woodville, Wisconsin: electronic facsimile: Browse Text". Retrieved November 12, 2017.
  8. ^ "UNT alumnus Lyle Mays to serve as guest artist in February - North Texan". Retrieved November 12, 2017.
  9. ^ "Really Good Music". Retrieved November 12, 2017.
  10. ^ "February 2006 - Division of Jazz Studies". Retrieved November 12, 2017.
  11. ^ "Jazz Keyboardist Lyle Mays Dies At 66". February 11, 2020. Retrieved September 15, 2020.
  12. ^ "Lyle Mays".
  13. ^ "Lyle Mays". JAZZIZ Magazine. Retrieved September 23, 2016.
  14. ^ "Mark Walker "Chord Bible Belt" featuring LYLE MAYS". YouTube. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  15. ^ "Letter from Home - Pat Metheny Group, Pat Metheny | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  16. ^ "First Circle - Pat Metheny, Pat Metheny Group | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  17. ^ "Pat Metheny Group - Pat Metheny Group, Pat Metheny | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  18. ^ "The Way Up - Pat Metheny, Pat Metheny Group | Credits". AllMusic. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  19. ^ Search Pat Metheny - The Roots Of Coincidence - Speaking of Now Live
  20. ^ Rich, Frank (May 8, 1985). "Theater: Steppenwolf Presents 'Orphans'". The New York Times. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  21. ^ Christian Dior - Aqua Fahrenheit (Long Version) Commercial (2011) on YouTube
  22. ^ "Twelve Days in the Shadow of a Miracle Sheet Music by Lyle Mays". Retrieved November 12, 2017.
  23. ^ "Zeltsman-Intermediate Masterworks for Marimba Volume 2". Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  24. ^ "Marimolin: Nancy Zeltsman, Marimba & Sharan Leventhal, Violin". Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  25. ^ "The Ludwigsburg Concert - NaxosDirect". Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  26. ^ "Interlude: Close to Home". YouTube. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  27. ^ "Quem é Você - Milton". YouTube. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  28. ^ "Zizi Possi - "Quem é Você" (Valsa Brasileira/1993)". YouTube. Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  29. ^ "A Jazz Star, Composition & Legos". Retrieved September 28, 2021.
  30. ^ Honisch, Thomas (January 25, 2007). "Lyle Mays interview". All About Jazz. Retrieved February 27, 2020.
  31. ^ Chapman, Wilson (April 3, 2022). "Grammys 2022 Winners List (Updating Live)".

External links[edit]