Aug 26, 2021
The loss of Lyle Mays in early 2020 after a lengthy illness deprived the jazz world of a brilliant composer and performer. Although he had been away from music for over a decade, his niece Aubrey Johnson, herself a talented jazz performer, told me that he never stopped working on his craft, or tinkering with compositions.
This month sees the release of Eberhard, Lyle’s self-professed “humble tribute” to the great German bassist Eberhard Weber, a former Mays collaborator. The “mini-symphony” was originally composed for the Zeltsman Marimba Festival in 2009, where it received a lengthy standing ovation. Ten years later, Mays recorded the work in L.A. studios over five days, creating what we now know was his final recording.
He brought with him an astounding group of musicians, many of them associated with him in the past. They included Mays on an array of keyboards and synthesizers, saxophonist Bob Sheppard, bassists Steve Rodby and Jimmy Johnson, percussionists Alex Acuna and Jimmy Branley, marimba player Wade Culbreath, organist Mitch Forman, and guitarist Bill Frisell. Wordless vocals were supplied by Ms. Johnson, Rosana Eckert and Gary Eckert, recalling the sound of Mays’ work with the Pat Metheny Group.
Aubrey Johnson is the gatekeeper for the Lyle Mays Estate, handling this now posthumous release along with other aspects of Mays’ career. She is a New York-based vocalist, composer, and educator who specializes in jazz, Brazilian, and creative contemporary music with and without words. She holds a Master of Music degree in jazz performance from the New England Conservatory. She has performed and recorded with ensembles such as Fred Hersch’s Pocket Orchestra, Sara Serpa’s City Fragments, John Zorn’s Mycale Vocal Quartet, Joe Phillips’ Numinous Ensemble, and Andrew Rathbun’s Large Ensemble, while also working with her own group. She released Unraveled in 2020 and will finally host a CD release part at Rockwood Music Hall in October.
Podcast 839 is my conversation with Aubrey Johnson about Eberhard, and her recollections of her Uncle Lyle’s career, particularly his intense drive for musical growth and perfectionism. We also discuss her views on jazz vocalists as musicians, and we hear the title track from her CD, Unraveled.