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Obituaries

Lyle Mays, keyboardist and co-founder of Pat Metheny Group, dies at 66

Lyle Mays At A Piano In The Yamaha Piano Showroom, New York City.
Jazz keyboardist Lyle Mays in New York City in 1988.
(Michel Delsol/Getty Images)

Lyle Mays, a jazz keyboardist whose work, chiefly with the Pat Metheny Group, won nearly a dozen Grammy Awards, has died at his home in Los Angeles.

Mays, who died Monday at age 66, had a “long battle with a recurring illness,” Pat Metheny said on his website.

“Lyle was one of the greatest musicians I have ever known,” Metheny wrote. “Across more than 30 years, every moment we shared in music was special. 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.”

“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.”

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Born in Wausaukee, Wis., on Nov. 27, 1953, Mays grew up in a musical family. His mother and father both played piano and guitar and as a youngster he played organ.

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 such diverse sounds as rock, contemporary jazz and 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.

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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 once designed a house for a relative.

During a recent tour, Metheny said, he could tell that Mays had “had enough of hotels, buses and so forth.” The lifestyle of constant touring is challenging and takes a toll on musicians, Metheny said.

“But, no matter what was happening in the day-to-day of it all,” Metheny said, “Lyle always gave it his all on the bandstand.”


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