Lyle Mays, Pat Metheny Group Keyboardist, Is Dead at 66

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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.

Mr. 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.

Mr. Mays met Mr. Metheny in 1974 at the Wichita Jazz Festival in Kansas. They first recorded together in 1977 on Mr. Metheny’s album “Watercolors” and made the partnership permanent the next year on an album titled simply “Pat Metheny Group.”

Their other ventures included writing the score for the John Schlesinger spy thriller “The Falcon & the Snowman” (1985), starring Sean Penn and Timothy Hutton. That score included a collaboration with David Bowie, “This Is Not America,” which was a Top 40 hit.

Mr. Mays and Mr. 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.”

Mr. Mays is survived by two sisters, Joan Johnson and Jane Tyler.

Mr. Mays also performed or recorded with Joni Mitchell (on her “Shadows and Light” tour), Bobby McFerrin, Rickie Lee Jones and others. He recorded a few albums as a leader, among them “Fictionary” (1992), a trio recital with Marc Johnson on bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums, and “Solo: Improvisations for Expanded Piano” (2000).


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