Lyle Mays Trio – Live at E.J.’s – Atlanta Georgia – August 22, 1981 – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
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More sad news this month. Hearing of the passing of Lyle Mays, founding member of The Pat Metheny Group as well as arranger and prolific composer, who passed away on February 10th after a long illness. He was 66.
Pat Metheny has long been one of the marquee names in jazz. But the albums he made with his working band from 1978 to 2005 for ECM, Geffen and other labels were always credited to the Pat Metheny Group, never just to Mr. Metheny. And Lyle Mays was an integral part of that lean quartet from its early days, whether giving depth and color to its sound on synthesizers or soloing gracefully on grand piano.
The group gained fame by merging jazz ideas with a rock sensibility; its later incarnation as a larger ensemble incorporated musical ideas from other parts of the world, notably Brazil.
Lyle David Mays was born on Nov. 27, 1953, in Wausaukee, a village in eastern Wisconsin. His parents encouraged his interest in music and were musically inclined themselves. His father, Cecil, a truck driver, taught himself to play guitar; his mother, Doris (Olson) Mays, who worked in a bank, played piano and organ in a local church.
Lyle Mays himself began playing organ in church at 9 and developed an interest in jazz not long afterward. After attending the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he transferred to North Texas State University (now the University of North Texas), where he played piano in the school’s celebrated One O’Clock Lab Band while composing and arranging its music. He wrote all the compositions and arrangements on the band’s Grammy-nominated album “Lab 75.” He left in 1975 to tour with Woody Herman’s big band.
He met Pat Metheny in 1974 at the Wichita Jazz Festival in Kansas. They first recorded together in 1977 on Metheny’s album “Watercolors” and formed the Pat Metheny group shortly afterward. The group’s first album, released the next year, was titled simply “Pat Metheny Group.”
Their other ventures included writing the score for the John Schlesinger spy thriller “The Falcon & the Snowman” (1985), which starred Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton. That score included a collaboration with David Bowie, “This Is Not America,” which was a Top 40 hit.
Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny released one album as co-leaders, the atmospheric and whimsically named “As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls” (1981). Reviewing it for The New York Times, Stephen Holden called it “a winning combination of electronic innovation and neo-Romantic lyricism,” and noted that Mr. Mays “dominates the record.” In a recent Facebook post, the bassist Christian McBride, another longtime Metheny associate, called it “one of the most moving documents of pure beauty ever made.”
Here is Lyle Mays in a trio setting, with Marc Johnson on bass and Danny Gottlieb on drums.
RIP: Lyle Mays. (special thanks: N.Y. Times Obituary – Feb. 12, 2020)