(CelebrityAccess) — Lyle Mays, a jazz pianist, composer, and founding member of the Pat Metheny Group, whose virtuosity with the keyboard helped to shape the sound of contemporary jazz, has died. He was 66.
His niece, jazz vocalist Aubrey Johnson, announced his death via social media: “It is with deep sadness that I share that my uncle, Lyle Mays, passed away this morning in Los Angeles surrounded by loved ones, after a long battle with a recurring illness. Lyle was 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.
In a separate statement, Pat Metheny shared his thoughts on his longtime colleague’s passing, writing: “My initial attraction to Lyle’s talent came first and foremost by way of his sensational abilities as a piano player. And I noticed from the first time I heard him that his playing reflected a deep and natural sense of orchestration. From there, things naturally led to an unmatched ability to do a kind of on-the-spot arranging/orchestration that was unprecedented – only Joe Zawinul had explored that aspect of small group playing in similar ways that provided inspiration. As the mandate of what the group was to be naturally and quite organically embraced the emerging musical instrument technology of the times, a new kind of sound became possible. Importantly, Lyle also carried a deep awareness of guitar – he was actually a very good guitar player, thanks to his dad, who also played. But he had so many skills and interests that paralleled mine, endless possibilities ensued.”
Mays, who was born in Wausaukee, Wisconsin, came from a musical family, with a mother who played piano and a father who performed on the guitar. Mays proved to be a quick musical study and by the age of 14, he was playing the organ for a local church.
After graduating from the University of North Texas, he landed a gig as a composer and arranger for the school’s jazz ensemble, the One O’Clock Lab Band, with credits that include the group’s Grammy-nominated album Lab 75.
Mays later toured with big band leader and jazz clarinetist Woody Herman’s band but left in 1974 after he met Pat Metheny and helped to found the Pat Metheny Group.
In the Pat Metheny Group, Mays provided arrangements, orchestration, playing a key role in defining the group’s signature sound.
He also filled in on other instruments when necessary, including the electric guitar, and the trumpet on songs such as Forward March” and “Yolanda You Learn.”
In addition to his work with the Pat Metheny Group, he had a solo career, releasing five albums of his own, including 2016’s The Ludwigsburg Concert.
He also performed as a sideman with numerous artists, including Joni Mitchell, Phil Wilson, Earth, Wind & Fire, and Bob Moses, among others.