We’re saddened to report that pianist/keyboardist/composer — and mathematician, chess player, and architect — Lyle Mays, passed away Monday, February 10, after a long battle with recurring illness. Co-founder of the ground-breaking Pat Metheny Group, Mays earned an amazing 11 Grammy Awards during his career, with four additional nominations.

Born in 1953, in Wausaukee, Wisconsin, to musical parents, Mays began studying piano at an early age and was playing organ at family events by age 9. He graduated from the University of North Texas, and began touring with Woody Herman’s band. He and guitarist/composer Pat Metheny met in 1974, leading to the formation of the Pat Metheny Group in 1977 with drummer Danny Gottlieb and bassist Mark Egan. The Group released 11 studio albums and two live albums, plus the soundtrack to The Falcon and the Snowman. Mays’ role in the band including keyboards, arrangements, orchestration, and even occasional guitar and trumpet parts. Though he received the majority of his acclaim for his jazz/fusion work, he did not consider himself a true “jazz musician,” often citing his love for classical music and its influence on him.

In addition to his work with the Pat Metheny Group, Mays released five solo albums, and worked as a sideman with Joni Mitchell, Rickie Lee Jones, Mark Isham, Earth, Wind, & Fire, Bobby McFerrin, Toots Thielmans, and many more. He also composed and recorded music for children, collaborating with Meryl Streep, Max von Sydow, Ben Kingsley, Amy Grant, and Christopher Reeve.

Mays spent the last few years outside the music industry, as a software manager. He was quoted in an interview with JazzIz magazine in 2016: “It’s not that I have a real desire to leave the music industry — I kind of feel like the music industry has left me. Or left all of us.” 

He continued, “I’ve gone where the economy’s gone. People don’t want to pay for music anymore. I could be bitter about that, but I have other interests and skills, so I’ve moved on.” Lyle released his last solo album, The Ludwigsburg Concert, in 2016. 

From all of us at Sweetwater, our condolences to his family, friends, and fans. He will be remembered as a true musician and innovator.

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