Feb 14, 2020
Lyle Mays played an important role in my jazz education. For people looking for innovative music in the Seventies, the music of the Pat Metheny Group, co-founded by Metheny and Mays, was a revalation. From the soaring sound of their self-titled "White Album" on ECM through their evolution as a band - and they WERE a band - that mixed electric jazz, rock, world and folk influences into a sound unlike any I had ever heard.
While Pat was the center of attention, Lyle was quietly the part that held things together, playing piano and keyboards to form the foundation for his guitarist's explorations. He co-wrote tunes for the Group, many of which were among their finest. It was his orchestrations, arrangements, and harmonization for the band. As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, a collaboration with Metheny was a revelation to me, taking me places I did not know were possible musically.
When Joni MItchell assembled an all-star jazz band to back her on tour in 1979, it was no surprise that she picked Metheny and Mays to join Jaco Pastorius, Michael Brecker, and Don Alias on the bandstand.. He was in demand as a sideman, recording with acts as diverse as Bob Moses, Earth, Wind & Fire and Rickie Lee Jones.
Mays recorded and performed as a solo act as well, and in the years after he left the Metheny Group, he produced a topnotch body of work,. His first two releases were electric in the Metheny Group vein, but he also recorded a piano trio album (Fictionary) and wrote classical music as well. But he publicly did less and less, and valued his privacy and quiet. He passed away earlier this week from a recurring illness at the age of 66.
My friend John Michaels had this to say about Lyle Mays' music:
At the end f his gorgeous solo on "San Lorenzo" from the album Travels, it gets really quiet and a fan yells out "As always, Lyle." That sums it up for me.
Amen. He will be missed. Listen to a sampling of his music, including:
"Before You Go" from Street Dreams
"It's For You" with Pat Metheny from As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls
"Something Left Unsaid" from Fictionary
"Slink" from Lyle Mays
"Beat 70" with the Pat Metheny Group from Letter from Home
"Third Wind" with the Pat Metheny Group from The Road to You
"Woodstock" with Joni Mitchell from Shadows and Light
"Procession" from Solo: Improvisations for Expanded Piano
"San Lorenzo" with the Pat Metheny Group from Travels