KEYBOARD Remembers Lyle Mays

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Lyle Mays on the cover of the July '86 issue of KEYBOARD

Lyle Mays on the cover of the July '86 issue of KEYBOARD

This week we mourn the passing of keyboardist, composer and Pat Metheny Group alum Lyle Mays, who passed away yesterday at the age of 66.

Mays was as influential and versatile as any musician of our time, playing lyrical piano solos one minute, then effortlessly coaxing otherworldly textures out of his keyboards the next. From jazz to fusion, Americana to pop/rock and beyond, Lyle Mays could do it all.

Below are just a few of the first remembrances we've been flooded with since the news of Mays' passing broke. Check back regularly, as more and more artists around the world share their memories of him. His music will certainly live on to inspire future generations of keyboard artists.

Jon Regen, Editor


"I’m so sorry to hear about Lyle Mays. The early records he made with Pat Metheny are some of my favorites that I still listen to often. Also on the Miles of Aisles Joni Mitchell recording, you can hear another side of Lyle's musical personality which I didn’t know about - he could be funky too. Lyle made a very significant contribution to contemporary jazz with his innovative and unique approach to composition. He was pretty inventive with synthesizers too and had a very identifiable sound. You could hear a lot of influences in the music which ranged from country to avant-garde jazz, but were integrated seamlessly in a profound and powerful way." - Jeff Lorber

"I remember someone telling me about Pat Metheny back in the late '70s when I had my band, Sea Level. I believe the record I heard first was American Garage. Obviously impressed with Metheny, my first thought was 'Who is this guy on keys?' I had never heard of Lyle, but…Wow…just wow. Then as the years went on and they put out more records, I was constantly blown away with both of their playing. Lyle had such a unique touch…an even flow, lyrical, smooth, but powerful all at once. RIP Lyle, and thanks for the inspiration." - Chuck Leavell

"The most powerful distinction of music is the impact it leaves on the world long after its creators are gone. This is a bittersweet sentiment as I still can’t believe Lyle is gone, but I’m so grateful for having connected with him. His playing and composing had such depth and elegance; never a wasted note. My prayers for God’s peace to his family. The world is a better place because of his music.” - Greg Phillinganes

"Street Dreams is my all time favorite album of Lyle's. He takes his time with his solos and builds them so lyrically, it's breathtaking. The successor to Bill Evans in my book." - Matt Johnson

"I was so sad to hear about the passing of brother keyboardist Lyle Mays. He was truly an inspiration with genius creativity. He slayed me. Rest well, brother Lyle. We will miss you here. Godspeed!" - Ricky Peterson

"I spent two years of my jazz college life falling asleep every night to Lyle's first solo record with the hopes that it would hopefully seep into my subconscious and influence my playing. I was just introducing my 17 year old son to Lyle’s music a week before Lyle passed. Lyle’s playing embraced both true modernity and tradition, and his deep musicality evoked a dreamlike evocative state regardless of a fast or slow tempo. Lyle Mays was a musical lock for me, and he is still who I’d like to sound like when I grow up." - Greg Wells

“I am so sorry to hear of Lyle Mays’ passing. Every time I listened to him, he seemed to be channeling all the greats at once, while keeping a strong sense of modern composition, even in his most unfettered improvisations.” - Kim Bullard

"A jazz legend has left us. Lyle was a beautiful musician who greatly influenced us all and contributed so much to our world. I wish his family all the best during this difficult time and feel extremely grateful for his music." - Jason Rebello

"I could go on all day on Lyle’s brilliant, expansive career, but I’ll share my most concentrated and visceral feeling for him. My older brother hipped me to Lyle Mays while I was in high school. By the time I got to college, I was knee deep in Lyle’s work with Pat Metheny- knocked out by his brilliant taste, touch and technique. And, he was a fellow Midwesterner! To me, Lyle seemed to be the most versatile and best-listened pianist on the planet, seamlessly integrating the influences of the giants of piano with those fantastic Metheny/Mays compositions that really couldn’t be categorized. And with all those influences, his playing sounded like, well… Lyle Mays. Instantly recognizable. An original voice for our time. Lyle’s ability to play and compose in such a broad spectrum of settings gave me - an insecure young muso that was struggling to bring together the myriad of genres that I really loved - hope and inspiration in finding my own voice. In short, I connected with him. He spoke to me. In particular, his work on the Pat Metheny Group’s Offramp album was of great importance to me, present at my lowest and highest periods of life, and shall always remain a touchstone for me. Thank you, Lyle, for your gentle spirit and formidable talent. You shall be missed." - Jeff Kazee

“Shocked and saddened to hear of Lyle Mays’ passing. I had his eponymous solo album on heavy rotation in the '90s. I loved his playing, his unique sonic signature on synths, his lush harmonic palettes, and his composition/arranging in his many collaborations with Pat Metheny. He leaves behind a comprehensive musical legacy. RIP.” - Mike Lindup

"I was first turned on to Lyle via the Pat Metheny Group’s First Circle. Then really loved his sensitive accompaniment on his relatively unsung contribution to Joni Mitchell’s Shadows and Light. I wore these records (okay, cassettes in my case at the time) out. After rediscovering “Chorinho” via the Bill Charlap version in 2011, I reached back and listened to Lyle’s original version and was just blown away- both by the brilliant composition and the execution. I reached out to Lyle, via an email that his one time saxophonist Bob Sheppard shared with me, and lo and behold he immediately responded. We began an email exchange dialogue that was fascinating and eye opening. One thing that stayed with me was, in Lyle’s words, 'Artists make supremely difficult things sound easy.' He continued, 'I aspired to play improvised music with the same level of precision and attention to detail achieved by (Glenn) Gould playing Bach. That was an insane goal, because Gould could practice his parts; I was going to invent them on the spot. Aim high I say.' And Mr. Mays, say no more. You achieved and you will continue to inspire for years to come." - Jeff Babko

"I saw the Pat Metheny Group with my bassist buddy Tom Shad back in junior high. I remember Lyle taking a synth solo and just mesmerizing the crowd. Watching and listening with mouth agape, I was gasping at the thought of all the pressure he must have been under in that moment to create, and marveling at the insane magic he was conjuring. I didn’t yet know how I was going to manage to climb up into that seat, but I knew I wanted that pressure and that magic." - Andy Burton

"I first heard Lyle’s playing in my early teens. Right away I knew - his writing and playing were everything I wanted my writing and playing to become. They were lyrical, melancholic, and very compositional. Fearlessly beautiful, as was he. The world will never know another Lyle Mays." - Ruslan Sirota

"I remember first hearing 'James' from Metheny’s Offramp album and falling love with both him and (as a budding pianist myself), with his co-writer the brilliant pianist Lyle Mays. That beauty, effortless dexterity, complexity that sounded so accessible....I was in love! When I heard Mays’ first solo album I listened to 'Mirror to the Heart' over and over... it was everything that made me fall in love with this instrument and the 'world' at one‘s finger tips (if one happened to sound like Lyle). No one sounded, wrote or played like him. I’m saddened to hear of his parting... too soon; but I am so grateful to have his music in this crazy world as a salve for my and all our souls." - Judith Owen

"Lyle Mays was the sound of the Pat Metheny Group. Integrating synthetic technology with acoustic instruments has always been borderline hit and miss. Mays made the transitions seamless and at the core of Metheny's work. His ideas were always innovative and a source of beauty. The true test of an artist with a distinctive voice is when you can identify then on first hearing. That he had!" - Bill King

"I remember when compact disc players just came out. The first CD I got from Columbia CDs was Lyle Mays' Street Dreams. It was a beautifully orchestrated album that heavily influenced my harmonic choices in later years." - Brian Charette

“One of the most important musical moments in my life happened when I saw the Pat Metheny Group perform at Bucknell University when I was initially a trumpet major there. After seeing Lyle Mays play those rich, warm synth pads and cutting edge textures, combined with his incredibly lyrical piano playing, I knew right then that I wanted to play keyboards for a living and I soon changed my major to piano. Both Pat and Lyle played with a type of emotion that was so raw that I felt I could heal whatever pain that I had internally by dedicating myself to playing music. Without question Lyle Mays is one of my biggest musical influences period.” - Brockett Parsons

"Lyle Mays. What can one say? His playing was beautiful, elegant, and virtuosic. His style and taste has had an amazing impact on me. He is one of the greatest keyboard players of all time and he will be missed!" - Billy Jay Stein

"I first heard Lyle Mays as a teenager, when I borrowed the album As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls from the Eau Claire, WI public library. I was mesmerized by the expansive soundscapes of the now-iconic title track. Later I discovered that Lyle was also a Wisconsin guy, that he attended university in my hometown and even apparently babysat me once! A beautiful pianist, synth visionary and composer." - Geoffrey Keezer 

“I met Lyle when I was in high school, having gone to a Pat Metheney Group concert when I was 15. I went up on stage and asked to see his keyboards (OBERHEIM)! He told me someday we wouldn’t have to drag around these large keyboards because they will be tiny in a little box due to circuit boards becoming more powerful. I was already impressed with his beautiful artistry and chops (The Pat Metheny tune ‘Lakes’ was like ‘Giant Steps’)! I was also impressed with his scientific knowledge. This man was clearly some kind of a wizard.

Lyle was one of my favorite keyboardists because he was also a genius pianist, orchestrator and sound designer. The Oberheim sound that had become his signature always inspired my own sound design and I refer to his vibe to this day. Later on, when I grew up and became a professional musician (I was then playing with Al Di Meola), I saw Lyle play trio and also got to work with him when he produced composer Alvaro Cordero’s recording sessions. I was playing keyboards (a Rhodes Chroma). We carefully crafted orchestral sounds for the piece and his incredible warm spirit, his talent, and his kindness made us all feel comfortable in the studio. He was a supportive, encouraging, highly intelligent and creative person. A true role model. 

I feel a true sense of loss of Lyle because he was a keyboard brother. He always treated me with kindness and with the vibe that I could do this keyboard thing too. Like he assumed that we were part of a big keyboard family.  His warm persona came out in his unique style of trio playing using piano and lovely synth colors. This concept was the foundation for many of my own musical dreams as a musician. 

The world lost a great artist but I know that his life force will live on not only in the music he left behind, but also in the stars, the moon, the sun, the sounds of a rushing river, in all things beautiful. I’ll be remembering you always Lyle for your complete musical genius as well as the kindness that you showed me as a little kid and then the respect you gave me as a woman in this business. I luv u man.” - Rachel Z