Jazz pianist and composer Lyle David Mays (November 27, 1953 – February 10, 2020) was an American artist best known as co-founder of the Pat Metheny Group. Together Metheny and Mays composed and arranged nearly all of the group’s music, for which Mays won eleven Grammy Awards.
Mays attended the University of North Texas after graduating he toured with Woody Herman’s group for approximately eight months. He composed and arranged for the world-renowned One O’Clock Lab Band and was the composer and arranger of their highly regarded and Grammy-nominated Lab 75 album.
In 1974, he met Pat Metheny and began collaborating with him and together they founded the Pat Metheny Group. During that period he lived in New York City, where he put in his time and built his career as “a starving artist.”
The Pat Metheny Group
The core members of the group are guitarist, composer and bandleader Pat Metheny; and keyboardist and composer Lyle Mays, who was a co-founder of the group. The arrangements by Methany and Mays were extremely innovative in their use of synthesizers and Methany’s virtuosic playing of synthesized sounds using the guitar via the Roland GR-55 Guitar Synthesizer.
Other long-standing members include bassist and producer Steve Rodby, who joined in 1981, and member Antonio Sanchez, who has been the group’s drummer since 2002. In addition to a core quartet, the group has often been joined by a variety of other instrumentalists expanding the size to six or eight musicians.
The Pat Metheny Group released the album Offramp in 1982 was the first recorded appearance of bassist Steve Rodby in the group. It also featured Brazilian “guest artist” Naná Vasconcelos providing a lush Brazilian flavored vocal component to the group’s sound. Vasconcelos had appeared on the Pat Metheny/Lyle Mays album As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls in 1981, and his performance on percussion and harmonized accompaniment marked the first addition of Brazilian shadings to the Group’s sound. Offramp was also the group’s first recording to earn the group a Grammy Award.
In 1983, a live album titled Travels was released further developing diverse cultural influences and of the groups synthesized Brazilian and jazz fusion sound. It won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Fusion Performance in 1984. 1984 brought the release of First Circle, a popular album that featured compositions with mixed meters. With this album, the group had a new drummer, Paul Wertico (replacing Danny Gottlieb). Wertico and Steve Rodby having both played with the Simon & Bard Group. A soundtrack album The Falcon and the Snowman followed in 1985. It featured the song “This Is Not America”, writing and performing collaboration with David Bowie which reached #14 in the British Top 40 and #32 on the US Billboard Hot 100 in early 1985.
The South American influence would continue and intensify on First Circle with the addition of Argentine multi-instrumentalist Pedro Aznar. This period saw the commercial popularity of the band increase, especially thanks to the live recording Travels. First Circle would also be Metheny’s last project with the ECM label.
The next three Pat Metheny Group releases would be based around a further intensification of the Brazilian rhythms first heard in the early ’80s. Additional South American musicians appear as guests, notably Brazilian percussion player Armando Marçal. Still Life (Talking) in 1987, was the Group’s first release on a new label, Geffen Records, and featured several tracks which have long been popular with the group’s followers, and which are still in their setlist. In particular, the album’s first tune, “Minuano (Six Eight)”, represents a good example of the Pat Metheny group compositional style from this period: the track starts with a haunting minor section from Mays, lifts off in a typical Methenian jubilant major melody, leading to a Malaysian metric and harmonically-modulated interlude, creating suspense which is finally resolved in the Methenian major theme. Another popular highlight was “Last Train Home”, a rhythmically relentless piece evoking the American Midwest. The 1989 release Letter from Home continued this approach, with the South American influence becoming even more prevalent in its bossa nova and samba rhythms.
Mays has won eleven Grammys with the Pat Metheny Group and been nominated for four others for his own work.
In the Pat Metheny Group, Mays created a complex tapestry of arrangements, embuing the group with multi-instrumental orchestration that was unsurpassed in Jazz. His work with Methany provided the harmonic and metric backbone and cultural influences from Brazil that became on of the group’s musical signatures. As an instrumentalist he performed on electric guitar on the songs “Forward March” and “Yolanda You Learn” from the Pat Metheny Group album First Circle (1984), and in the concert tour for that album, he even played trumpet.
His albums later in his career as a leader show his range of musical interests: Lyle Mays and Street Dreams builds on the content of the Pat Metheny Group, while Fictionary is a straight-ahead jazz trio session featuring fellow North Texan Marc Johnson on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. Solo: Improvisations for Expanded Piano is focused on solo piano improvisations. He was also a talented arranger composing and recording music for children’s records, like a Tale of Peter Rabbit, with text read by Meryl Streep.
Mays plays a Steinway Grand Piano with built-in MIDI. He has used an Oberheim 8 Voice Synth, a Sequential Circuits Prophet 5, Kurzweil K250, Korg DW-8000, Korg Triton keyboards, and many more.
Lyle Mays (Geffen, 1986)
Street Dreams (Geffen, 1988)
Fictionary (Geffen, 1993)
Solo: Improvisations for Expanded Piano (Warner Bros., 2000)
The Ludwigsburg Concert (Naxos, 2016)
Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays
As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls (1981, ECM)
Pat Metheny Group
Watercolors (ECM, 1977)
Secret Story (Geffen, 1992)
The Sound of the Wasp, Phil Wilson (ASI, 1975)
Home, Steve Swallow (ECM, 1979)
Shadows and Light, Joni Mitchell (Asylum, 1980)
Later That Evening, Eberhard Weber (ECM, 1982)
When Elephants Dream of Music, Bob Moses (Gramavision, 1982)
Girl at Her Volcano, Rickie Lee Jones (Warner Bros., 1983)
Mrs. Soffel, film soundtrack, released on Film Music, Mark Isham (Windham Hill, 1985)
The Story of Moses, Bob Moses (Gramavision, 1987)
“Heritage”, Earth, Wind & Fire (Columbia, 1990)
Medicine Music, Bobby McFerrin (EMI, 1990)
Premonition, Paul McCandless (Windham Hil, 1991l)
Live in Warsaw (1976), Woody Herman (Storyville, 1992)
Falling Out, Igor Butman (Impromptu, 1994)
Points of View, Nando Lauria (Narada, 1994)
Noa, Noa (Geffen, 1994)
East Coast West Coast, Toots Thielemans (Private Music, 1994)
Schemes and Dreams, Pat Coil (Sheffield Lab, 1994)
Fifteen Year Anniversary, Betty Buckley (K.O., 2000)