“Lyle was a brilliant musician and person, and a genius in every sense of the word,” said a statement from his niece, composer-vocalist Aubrey Johnson. “He was my dear uncle, mentor, and friend and words cannot express the depth of my grief.”
Born in Wausaukee, Wisconsin, Mays’ mother and father played piano and guitar and he played organ as a youngster.
He co-founded the group with guitarist Metheny in the 1970s, where he was a performer, composer and arranger. The group’s endlessly innovative fusion style incorporated everything from rock and contemporary jazz to world music.
The group won numerous jazz performance Grammys, and some for best contemporary jazz album, including 2005’s award for “The Way Up.” But the group also scored an award in 1998 for best rock instrumental performance for “The Roots of Coincidence.”
Mays also was a sideman for albums by jazz, rock and pop artists, including Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones and the group Earth, Wind & Fire.
Mays also helped compose soundtrack music for several movies, including 1985’s “The Falcon and The Snowman.”
Mays, who cherished the technical and analytical aspects of his craft as well as the improvisational part, also was a self-taught computer programmer and architect who designed a house for a relative.
According to the Facebook post, written by his niece Aubrey Johnson, Mays died Monday morning in Los Angeles “surrounded by loved ones, after a long battle with a recurring illness.”
“Lyle was a brilliant musician and person, and a genius in every sense of the word,” the post reads. “From his family, thank you for loving him and his music.”
Metheny posted his own tribute on Facebook early Tuesday.
“Lyle was one of the greatest musicians I have ever known. Across more than 30 years, every moment we shared in music was special,” he wrote. “From the first notes we played together, we had an immediate bond. His broad intelligence and musical wisdom informed every aspect of who he was in every way. I will miss him with all my heart.”
That special bond was noted in a Milwaukee Journal review of a Pat Metheny Group concert in 1995.
“It’s obvious that Metheny and Mays have been creative partners for a long time,” entertainment critic Nick Carter wrote. “Whether they’re tearing through unrestrained improvisations or ripping off tightly rehearsed parts, their playing is always complementary; one never intrudes upon the other.”
Steve Rodby, bassist and producer from the Pat Metheny Group, also issued a statement on Metheny’s Facebook page.
“I had the great privilege of having Lyle in my life for decades, as an inspiration and as my friend,” he wrote. “As anyone who knew him and his music will agree, there will only be one Lyle, and we all will continue to appreciate his soulful brilliance, in so many ways.”
Mays first met Metheny at the Wichita Jazz Festival in 1975, according to the Journal Sentinel archives, and he first worked with Metheny on the latter’s solo album “Watercolors” in 1977. The Pat Metheny Group officially debuted with its self-titled album the following year, releasing 11 studio albums through 2005, and two live albums.
Metheny and Mays also worked together on a second Metheny solo album, a joint album under both composers’ names, and as composers for the 1985 film “The Falcon and the Snowman.” That soundtrack included the song “This Is Not America,” their collaboration with David Bowie.
With Metheny, Mays won 11 Grammys, including best contemporary jazz album for Pat Metheny Group’s “Speaking of Now” from 2002 and the band’s final album “The Way Up” in 2005. He was nominated for a Grammy 23 times, according to the Recording Academy database, including for his self-titled album in 1986, the first of five solo albums.
In 2016, Mays was inducted into the Wisconsin Area Music Industry’s Hall of Fame. Last month, the Journal Sentinel named Mays as one of the 25 most impactful Wisconsin musicians of the past 100 years.
Words are failing me right now upon hearing of Lyle’s passing. He was truly one of the most talented people I ever knew, a true genius in every sense of the word, and there were so many incredible musical moments we shared, but he was also one of the nicest people too. We had a lot of fun times off the bandstand, as well as on the bandstand, and here are two photos my wife Barb just found of him playing piano with our 7-month old daughter Talia in May 1996 when the PMG was recording “Quartet” at Right Track Studio in NYC. This is the Lyle we also want people to remember, as well as the Lyle that most people know, the brilliant musician. My family and I are devastated, but we were lucky to know him and we’ll remember him as much for moments like this as the wonderful times playing music together. Thank you Lyle for all the years of great music and memories – said Paul Wertico.