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“The first time I saw Lyle was at a place called Harry Hope’s in Cary, Illinois—the same town where I went to high school, actually. He was playing with Pat [Metheny], and it was just the quartet at that time. Lyle blew me away. He had this thing; his synthesizer playing, his piano playing, and everything was just incredible. I saw them again at the Bottom Line in New York and at the College of DuPage in Illinois.
One reason I guess I got the gig [with the Pat Metheny Group in 1983] was because I made Lyle real comfortable when he soloed. When [I auditioned for the band in December ’82], we ended up jamming as a quartet—Pat, Lyle, Steve [Rodby], and me—for … God, it must have been 10 or 12 hours. It was a totally natural thing.
The word “genius” seems to be used for everybody now. If you can play at 300 beats per minute, you’re a genius, you know? But Lyle was one. And not only musically. I mean, the guy could literally hear anything and write it out. But he was also one of those guys that, you know, you’d give him a Rubik’s Cube and in like a minute, he’d give it back to you completely solved.. And then he got into chess, and I think he beat the Montana state champion or something. Then he starts getting into Legos, and all of a sudden he’s an architect. We’d be on tour in the ’80s and he was teaching himself C++—next thing you know, he’s showing us all these software programs he’d created.
He was also really athletic. He was a thin guy, but his hand-to-eye coordination was amazing. And when we were doing that More Travels video [released in 1993], it was in the Cyclorama Building in Boston. They’d rented a circus, bears and jugglers and all that stuff, and at one point this juggler gives his stuff to Lyle and Lyle’s juggling five balls at once. And the guy looks at him like, “What?” He was just that way. Everything came easy to him.
A lot of people would think he wasn’t that friendly. Sometimes after a gig, if he was going somewhere and someone approached him, he might not have time to speak to them. But it was never out of rudeness. It was just that … you know, he was on a mission. He had so much going on in his mind.
In a lot of ways, Lyle never got his due. And I don’t know if it bothered him. His contributions were major, but it was called the Pat Metheny Group and it’s easy to get sort of overwhelmed when it’s one name and one image. But he and Pat always had a good relationship, as far as I know.
Over this pandemic I’ve been going through all these CDs, stuff that I’ve never released. There’s a weekend at the Green Mill [in Chicago] with my quintet with Lyle playing piano from June of ’92, and it’s unbelievable. With his ears, he could play anything.
The last time I was in touch with him was by text in the summer of 2019. I said, “Man, let’s talk!” And he goes, “Well, you know, my mouth is sore, something’s up with my tongue, let’s just text.” I had no idea what was going on. I still can’t believe he’s dead.
When Lyle died, I posted an old picture of him with my little daughter at the piano on my Facebook page. She was two-and-a-half, three years old. He could be so kind.
- Paul Wertico, PUBLISHED FEBRUARY 8, 2021, JazzTimes
“Mays sometimes seems more like a technician than a musician. He got his start in Woody Herman's band in 1975 but then joined fellow Midwesterner Pat Metheny in the guitarist's quartet, and that association has endured ever since. Mays is Metheny's main co-writer and handles all the keyboard orchestration on his many records: he was an early starter in getting state-of-the-art synthesizers into jazz-orientated music, and he clearly has great knowledge of their use. Much of what he does on Melheny's records is deft and suitably beguiling,...”
- Richard Cook’s Jazz Encyclopedia
“Although Metheny is a masterful technician (teaching guitar at the Berklee jazz conservatory while still in his teens), his playing avoids the empty demonstration of finger facility so common among jazz-rock guitarists. Instead, he has refined a lucid, melodic style that ranks as the most incisive approach to the electric guitar since Wes Montgomery. The addition of the superlative keyboardist Lyle Mays to Metheny's band in 1976 spurred an especially fruitful partnership documented on recordings for the ECM and Geffen labels.”
- Ted Gioia, The History of Jazz
“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.”
- Pat Metheny, guitarist and bandleader
According to Robert Ham February 13, 2020 obituary in Down Beat magazine, “Mays was born in Wausaukee, Wisconsin, on Nov. 27, 1953, to a musical family. While his parents held steady day jobs, both harbored a deep love of music and played instruments: His father was a self-taught guitarist, and his mother played piano and organ, mostly in church. Mays followed suit, taking piano lessons from a local teacher, and eventually began playing organ in his hometown church as a teen.
Around the same time, he became an ardent jazz fan after coming across Bill Evans’ At The Montreux Jazz Festival, a live trio album on the Verve imprint that featured bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette. According to Steven Cantor, the co-producer of Mays’ first two solo albums (a 1986 self-titled LP and 1988’s Street Dreams), “He was completely mystified by [the live Evans recording]. He couldn’t understand it at all. But given his interest in music and that he was playing piano at the time, it became something that he had to figure out.”
Lyle spent a lifetime “figuring things out” which may have led to Gary Giddins’ reference to him as a “precious pianist.” Precious, here, is used disapprovingly to mean someone who is behaving in a way others perceive to be over-sensitive. In other words, they are behaving as if they are precious. [see the review “Beyond Romance” in Giddins, Rhythm-a-ning .
But in the larger sense, Lyle’s work with Metheny pushed Pat’s music into formats that featured synthesizers which Mays orchestrated to embellish the music well-beyond the sound of a guitar, piano, bass and drums quartet.
As Ham goes on to explain: “While Mays’ first professional gig out of college was playing with Woody Herman’s band, it was his work with Metheny that defined the next 30 years of his career. The two first met at a jazz festival in Wichita, Kansas, during 1974. But it would be several years before they regularly began performing and recording together, starting with Metheny’s 1977 album Watercolors. From there, Mays became the longest tenured member of the Pat Metheny Group, co-writing much of the band’s material and blending acoustic piano with an ever-growing array of synthesizers to add misty textures and whimsy to their sessions. [Emphasis mine].
Mays and Metheny’s creative partnership extended outside the band, as well. 1981 saw the release of their duo album, As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls, and Metheny had a hand in producing some recordings where Mays took top billing: 1993’s Fictionary (with bassist Johnson and drummer DeJohnette) and 2000’s Solo (Improvisations For Extended Piano). Some insight into what made their relationship so fruitful can be found in an interview Mays gave to Down Beat for the March 1993 edition, around the time Fictionary was released.
“We had just finished a tour, when Pat approached me and said, ‘You should go into the studio. I really think your playing is the best I’ve heard you play,’” Mays told writer Martin Johnson. “I was like ... thanks [shrugs]. I was almost resistant to the idea, though. I hadn’t prepared a record.
“On the first two records I did [Lyle Mays and Street Dreams], I spent a lot of time in preproduction orchestrating things. [Emphasis mine.] It wasn’t even on my mind to do an acoustic record. I have to give Pat credit; he kind of talked me into doing it.”
Looked at with this as a backdrop - Lyle’s work on Eberhard is a natural extension or, if you will, a continuation of “I spent a lot of time in preproduction orchestrating things,”
The mind of a musician like Lyle Mays “sees and hears” music as a complexity that requires orchestration to display it in its fullest expression.
Synthesized keyboards combined with the studio’s sound channels and mixing boards becomes the ultimate instrument for Lyle and he does indeed play them preciously in order to create music. If, as Louis Armstrong said - “Jazz is who you are” - making music through this combination of instrumentation and audio devices is who Lyle Mays was and you can hear the penultimate expression of his evolved musical identity on Eberhard.
Antje Hübner of hubtone is handling media release and she sent along the following Press Kit which will provide you with detailed information about Lyle and the forthcoming Eberhard recording, as well as, a preorder link.
The Lyle Mays Estate is elated to announce the release of a thirteen-minute “mini symphony” entitled Eberhard—a composition completed by Mays in 2009 for the Zeltsman Marimba Festival, and recorded in the months before his passing on February 10, 2020, with a slate of notable names in jazz including Bill Frisell, Alex Acuña, and Bob Sheppard.
Due out on August 27, 2021, Eberhard is a long-form, multi-section work that is Lyle’s self-professed dedication to the great German bass player Eberhard Weber, a composer whose influence loomed large on Mays and his long-time collaborator Pat Metheny in the forming of the 11-time Grammy-Award winning Pat Metheny Group during the mid 70’s and throughout their careers. According to Steve Rodby (bass player of the Pat Metheny Group and Lyle’s best friend) who did double duty on this recording as co-associate producer and acoustic bassist, “…though he called it his ‘humble tribute’ to Eberhard, it is still 100 percent Lyle in every way.”
A steady, lilting marimba (Wade Culbreath) ostinato offers an ample bed for Eberhard’s ethereal opening piano melody, performed, of course, by Mays. Lyle’s unmistakable orchestrational style is immediately on display as various shakers, rainsticks, and atmospheric synthesizer pads quietly make their way into the texture, rising and falling organically as an electric bass theme (played by longtime James Taylor cohort, Jimmy Johnson) emerges. Wordless vocals, a hallmark of the music of the Pat Metheny Group, supplied here by jazz singers Aubrey Johnson (Lyle’s niece and co-executive producer), Rosana Eckert, and Gary Eckert, are introduced—first as accompaniment to the bass melody and later as melodic “instruments.”
Vocal features give way to Bob Sheppard’s woodwind section, which gives way to cello section underscores (led by principal Timothy Loo), and soon the whole ensemble, including star drummer/percussionists Jimmy Branly and Alex Acuña, Steve Rodby (acoustic bass), Mitchel Forman (Hammond B3 Organ/Wurlitzer piano), and Bill Frisell (guitar) have made appearances. All sixteen instrumentalists/vocalists rarely play at the same time, instead playfully weaving in and out for various features (notably by Mays, Jimmy Johnson, Aubrey Johnson, and Culbreath) and accompanying textures. In a piece already abundant with aural decadence, Bob Sheppard’s extended tenor saxophone solo, which brings Eberhard to its climax, is perhaps the most thrilling. The piece ends as it began, with a sparse recapitulation of the introduction, rewarding the listener with the feeling of having experienced an incredible musical odyssey.
In typical Lyle fashion, this music reflects and honors his far-reaching influences, most obviously the bass playing and compositional style of Eberhard Weber (with whom Lyle recorded on two occasions), but continuing on through Philip Glass’ minimalism, Indonesian Gamelan ensemble, Brazilian music (notably the percussive and speech-like vocal techniques of Lyle’s friend and collaborator Naná Vasconcelos), to the blues, and to classical forms and structures. As in all of his compositions, Mays’ propensity for exploiting compositional material (or, its “DNA”) to the fullest extent is ever constant throughout Eberhard. Like a scientist, he would take a simple melodic, harmonic, rhythmic, or other kind of idea and experiment with it until he had discovered all of the different forms it could take—melody, counterline, background pad, bassline, rhythmic motif, and more—often using the same ideas in a wide variety of ways. Eberhard is utterly intentional, containing layer upon layer of depth, complexity, love, and care for the listener to discover.
While technically a posthumous release, Mays was engaged in the making of Eberhard from beginning to end—serving as composer, arranger, performer (piano, keyboards, and synthesizers), producer, and executive producer, and was actively involved in all of the recording and mixing sessions, which took place in Los Angeles during the latter half of 2019.
Fans will know that Lyle had been on hiatus from his enormously successful touring and recording career with the Pat Metheny Group and as a solo artist (Eberhard will be his seventh release as a leader) since 2011, choosing instead to pursue his myriad non-musical passions. Then, “Lyle’s health took a bad turn in 2019, and at about the same time, he decided to try to get Eberhard recorded. The relationship between those two events is complex. What’s clear is that he would continue writing and extending this music, as was always his process: to try to find every bit of what the material suggested, every note and harmony, and sound it evoked for him. He added parts, expanded orchestration, imagining it all on an even grander scale,” Steve Rodby explains. “The result is this recording, and what he was able to hear in his final days. This wasn’t meant to be Lyle’s last piece of music, and if he had lived longer, he had plans for more.”
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