The tremendous talent and artistry of Lyle Mays

So sorry to hear of the death of Lyle Mays, who was the iconic and extremely talented keyboardist for the (now disband) Pat Metheny Group (PMG), one of my favourite jazz ensembles. Pat and Lyle started the Pat Metheny Group. When I think of Lyle, I see him encased in his 5 keyboards with the Pat Metheny Group. He was seated at his Steinway & Sons grand piano (lid down) with a (digital?) keyboard on top of the Steinway. Then he had two keyboards stacked on top of each other to his left along with some sound control equipment, and then another keyboard on his right. They all had a purpose and he played them all, sometimes with his right hand on one keyboard and his left hand on another keyboard to create the sound he and or Pat wanted at a particular time in the piece they were performing. One can see him doing that in their piece called “First Circle.” Lyle died 10 February 2020 in Los Ángeles of a “recurring illness.” He was 66. He left the Pat Metheny Group. And that’s around the time that they broke up, I think, if I have the timeline correct. I mean, how does one replace someone like Lyle Mays with his improvisational talent and artistry? Oh there are people out there who can improvise, but they are not Lyle Mays, and because of that it would change the “sound” of the PMG. I read sometime ago that Lyle got tired of touring. Yeah, that can get tiring. That’s one of the complaints of classical music concert artists where they essentially live in hotel rooms out of a suitcase. Concertising often ends up not being at all what they had dreamed it would be: “Oh joy, I have to sit on a plane for 15 hours one way to go to the other end of the Earth to play the Brahms‘s First (that’s short-hand talk for Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in d, Op 15) with jet lag and little sleep. Super! Can’t tell you how much I look forward to that! But that’s where my artist management is sending me. Then I come back home for 2 days trying to recover from jet lag and then jet off again to another city to play the Rachmaninov Second (Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 in c) three nights in a row with little sleep in an unfamiliar environment/hotel room and more jet lag. Then I have to play a 90-minute solo recital the evening of the day I get back home. Hopefully I won’t doze off during my playing of Schumann’s Kreisleriana. But you never know! Well, it helps pay the mortgage. I shouldn’t complain. I’m the one who chose this ‘glamorous’ life. I love the music, just not the rest that goes along with it!” That’s about the extent of it from what I’ve read from touring concert artists in the classical music genre. The PMG’s touring was likely different than that in that they took road tours with their musical instruments and their set and equipment. Everything that was needed for their superb performances. I went to hear them at UC-Berkeley when Pedro Aznar was still with the Group, right after the release of “First Circle.” But it’s still very tiring having a road tour of travelling from one city to another on one tour. Some groups have a tour of up to 12 cities at a time. I think the Metheny Group’s was similar. I also read that Lyle had some disagreements with Pat which led him to leave the Group. I don’t know if that’s true. He was as important to the Pat Metheny Group as Pat Metheny. They were such a wonderful musical group — hard to believe they are no longer around; who would have ever thought?! — and I always enjoy their music. Some of their music I don’t know as well as other pieces. They played a mood piece by the PMG recently on KCSM and I said to myself: That sounds like the PMG. They later announced it and it was the PMG. They have a “signature sound” of sorts. I can usually recognise them if it’s a piece I don’t know as well as I know “First Circle” or “Last Train Home” as two examples. And the PMG audience was very mature. Very respectful; never talking over the music. I feel rather shocked to hear of Lyle’s death. What a loss. Age 66 is so young. Pat Metheny wrote the following after hearing about Lyle’s death: “Lyle was one of the greatest musicians I have ever known. 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.” Steve Rodby, bassist and producer from the Pat Metheny Group, also issued a statement on Metheny’s FB page: “I had the great privilege of having Lyle in my life for decades, as an inspiration and as my friend. 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.” [Source]

You can watch the PMG perform “First Circle” (one of my favourites featuring the wonderful Pedro Aznar on vocals) by putting this in your search engine: Pat Metheny Group – First Circle – 1989

That should bring it up for you. To make sure you have the correct video, it should show a large outdoor performance in a park packed with people standing and the PMG on the outdoor stage. I’m not directly linking to the video because I don’t want the copyright nazis at G**gle/U-toob to delete the person’s channel or the video. The video is not directly from the PMG or Lyle Mays so that’s why I’m not linking to it or embedding it.

Update: Someone came to this article the other day by searching, “lyle mays bisexual.” I didn’t say anything about his sexual orientation in the article because I have no information on that, and frankly I’m tired of talking about sexuality and sexual orientation. I’ve given up on it and that’s, in part, because I’ve written about it for years and fairly recently realised how volatile the topic is these days. Geezus, who wants to deal with that? And some members of the queer population are their own worst enemy. I’m thinking particularly of the queers who rush to defend other queers who are so desperate to live a “straight”/heteronormative/even closeted life. (roll eyes/ugh). But back to Lyle, I suppose most people assumed that Lyle was straight or heterosexual — since most people are assumed to be straight whether they are or not because we live in very heteronormative society where “him, tall and dominant” and “non-feminist her, short and submissive (with the perfunctory blond hair, out of a bottle?) are all you see on television and in ads — but my reliable gaydar told me that Lyle was a queer/gay boy. But he may have been bi, but that’s not how I read him. There was no wife, girlfriend, boyfriend or male partner listed as survivors. The only relative I read anything about was that his niece spoke very highly of him and referred to Lyle as a genius. Chau.—el barrio rosa

This piece feels very appropriate about now. “If I Could” from the Pat Metheny Group and it’s on Pat Metheny’s own U-toob channel. It feels like sort of an in memorium piece to Lyle Mays. Someone in the comments under the video called it “a song.” That’s a common mistake that many people make, especially non-musicians. (Related: “I’m looking for that song called Beethoven’s Ninth). They call all music (including a piano concerto or a symphonic work) “a song,” rather than call it the name of the piece, which is usually in its title. Even some musicians who should know better do that. It’s not “a song” as there is no one singing. One of the first things I learned from my piano professor in the Conservatory where I trained is that a song is a musical composition that is sung by the human voice. “If I Could” is a piece for instruments only. Therefore it is not a song. It’s an instrumental work.

Related: Lyle Mays, Keyboard Innovator and Frequent Metheny Collaborator, Dead at 66 and Remembering Lyle Mays: His Life in Music.