Renowned Grammy Award-winning keyboardist and composer Lyle Mays, a founding member of the Pat Metheny Group, has died aged 66, it was reported this morning.
The news was confirmed by Mays’ niece, musician Aubrey Johnson, who posted on his official Facebook page. The cause of his death is not yet known, though Metheny’s website attributed it to "a long struggle with a recurring illness".
Born in Wisconsin in 1953, Mays studied piano from an early age and, after attending the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, he entered the famous North Texas State University’s jazz programme where he composed and arranged for the award-winning student ensemble One O'Clock Lab Band. He was also the composer and arranger on the Grammy-nominated album Lab 75, graduating that year. He subsequently auditioned and joined the Woody Herman Orchestra, touring the US and Europe and appeared on Woody Herman: Live in Warsaw.
In the mid-1970s he met guitarist Pat Metheny, and as fellow mid-Westerners discovered they had much in common, forming an association that would shape both their careers over the next quarter-century. Together, they developed and refined the PMG, which made its recording debut in 1977 with Pat Metheny Group. The band would become the only musical ensemble, irrespective of genre, to win an unprecedented seven consecutive Grammys for seven consecutive albums. In all, Mays won 11 Grammy Awards with Metheny’s group. He was one of the first keyboard players to employ polyphonic synthesizers in concert, enabling him to reproduce the rich, complex orchestral backdrop he created in the studio in a live context.
Although the PMG toured extensively, there was also space for both Metheny and Mays to engage in their own projects. Mays recorded with bassist Eberhard Weber, appeared on Joni Mitchell’s Shadows and Light, and albums by Steve Swallow, Bob Moses, Rickie Lee Jones, Bobby McFerrin, Earth Wind & Fire, and many more. His own albums, Lyle Mays and Street Dreams, built on the concept of the Pat Metheny Group, while Fictionary was a trio session with Marc Johnson and Jack DeJohnette. He also composed and recorded children’s and classical music, such as ‘Twelve Days in the Shadow of a Miracle’, as well as soundtrack cuts for several movies, co-composing with Pat Metheny on The Falcon and The Snowman (1985). The film features the song ‘This Is Not America’, written and performed by David Bowie and the Pat Metheny Group.
After co-composing and recording The Way Up, the final recording of the Pat Metheny Group in 2005, Mays appeared in a quartet version of the group at the Blue Note Tokyo in January 2009 with Metheny, Steve Rodby and Antonio Sanchez. The following year the group toured the jazz festivals of Europe, and on their return to the United States Mays began engaging in a variety of non-music related endeavours. A self-taught architect and computer programmer, he designed a house for a relative and began increasingly involving himself in the computer world, telling JAZZIZ magazine in 2016 that his current career was that of a software manager.