Songwriters & Producers

Lyle Mays

lyle mays
Songwriters & Producers

Lyle Mays

Lyle Mays (born Lyle David Mays on 27 November 1953 in McAllister, Wisconsin; died 10 February 2020) was an American jazz pianist and composer best known as the co-creator of the Pat Metheny Group. Metheny and Mays composed and arranged nearly all of the group’s music, for which Mays won eleven Grammy Awards.

While growing up, Mays had four main interests: chess, mathematics, architecture and music. His parents were musically inclined – his mother was a pianist, his father was a guitarist – and he was able to study the piano with the help of instructor Rose Barron. She allowed Mays the opportunity to practice improvisation after the structured elements of the lesson were completed. At age 9 he played organ at a family member’s wedding, and began playing organ in church shortly after. As a teenager he attended Shell Lake Stage Band Camp where his talents were recognized immediately, and where he connected with important mentors and musical peers.

Bill Evans’ album Live in Montreux and Miles Davis’ album Filles de Kilimanjaro were important influences on his formation as a jazz musician.

Lyle attended the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for two years before transferring to the University of North Texas on scholarship. At UNT, Lyle composed and arranged the music for The One O’Clock Lab Band’s Lab 75, the first ever album by a collegiate ensemble to be nominated for a Grammy.

After leaving UNT, Mays toured with Woody Herman’s group for approximately eight months.

In 1974, he met Pat Metheny with whom he later founded the Pat Metheny Group. Mays won eleven Grammys with the Pat Metheny Group and was nominated for four others for his own work.

In the Pat Metheny Group, Mays provided arrangements, orchestration and the harmonic and metric backbone of the group’s musical signature. He occasionally performed on electric guitar as well. 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 played trumpet.

His albums as a leader reflect a large variety of musical interests: Lyle Mays and Street Dreams build 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 has also composed and recorded music for children’s records, such as Tale of Peter Rabbit, with text read by Meryl Streep.

The Steppenwolf Theater Company of Chicago featured an assortment of compositions by Lyle Mays and Pat Metheny for their production of Lyle Kessler’s play Orphans.

He composed classical music such as “Twelve Days in the Shadow of a Miracle”, a piece for harp, flute, viola and synthesizer (recorded 1996 by the Debussy Trio).