Lyle Mays – Composer, Arranger, Producer and Keyboardist, Part Two

Lyle Mays – Composer, Arranger, Producer and Keyboardist, Part Two

Written by Rudy Radelic

Part One (Issue 144) covered Lyle Mays’ recordings as a leader and as part of the Pat Metheny Group. The series concludes here.

In the last installment, we looked at Lyle Mays’ own recordings, and some early tunes he recorded with Pat Metheny and the Pat Metheny Group. In this second installment, we’ll expand a bit and include some additional projects Lyle was a part of as a composer, arranger and/or performer. In addition to the features below, Lyle also appeared on the following albums as a sideman: Home by Steve Swallow, Contemplación by fellow Pat Metheny Group member Pedro Aznar, Premonition by Oregon woodwind player Paul McCandless, and Later That Evening by Eberhard Weber.

While Lyle and Pat Metheny did not directly score the film, two tunes from As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls were excerpted in the Brat Pack film Fandango. They did, however, score the film The Falcon and The Snowman, featuring the Pat Metheny Group, a few orchestrations, and a David Bowie vocal on the track “This Is Not America,” which made the Top 40 of the US Billboard Hot 100 chart in 1985.

After recording Solo: Improvisations for Expanded Piano, Lyle retreated from the music business, but took up a career as a manager for a music software company. Long before computers were used in music, Lyle learned to program on an Apple II computer back in the day, so this was a natural progression for him, and in a slower-paced lifestyle he was comfortable with. There were sporadic appearances after his retreat.

Here is a video of Lyle and percussionist Alex Acuña demonstrating a software-based upright bass.  What was intended to be a demonstration turns into an improvised jam that is textbook Lyle Mays at his best. Also be sure to check out “Duo #2,” as well as the “Behind The Scenes” video from Spectrasonics which explains the software Lyle and Alex were demonstrating in the two demo videos.


One interesting series of recordings that Lyle had a small part in were the releases on the Rabbit Ears label (a subsidiary of Windham Hill, which was dedicated to children’s recordings consisting mainly of narrated stories. One such project paired Lyle Mays with actress Meryl Streep narrating “The Tale of Peter Rabbit” and “The Tale of Mr. Jeremy Fisher.” Another paired Lyle with actor Max von Sydow narrating “East of the Sun, West of the Moon.” A third was Moses the Lawgiver, narrated by actor Ben Kingsley. Here is an excerpt from this recording:


Pat, Lyle, Jaco Pastorius, Don Alias and Michael Brecker appeared in concert with Joni Mitchell on her Shadows and Light album. Here is the track “Coyote” from that era.


In 1994, pianist Pat Coil, a longtime friend of Lyle’s from their days together at the University of North Texas (who also appears on the Lab ’75 album featured in Part One of this series), released an album on Sheffield Lab called Schemes and Dreams. Since he was influenced by Lyle’s work, he offered Lyle a chance to take part in the album. Lyle also enlisted Steve Rodby (bassist of the Pat Metheny Group) and not only contributed some parts on keyboards, he also wrote some of the tunes and co-produced the album with Rodby. This track originally appeared on Fictionary, “Where Are You From Today?” This version is supported by a who’s who of Los Angeles studio musicians.


When Lyle was based in Boston in the late 1980s and early 1990s, he’d made the acquaintance of a marimba player, Nancy Zeltsman, via a music consortium he had attended as part of the audience. Lyle eventually contributed a song to Zeltsman’s duo project, Marimolin (marimba and violin), which appeared on their self-titled debut album in 1988. This tune composed by Lyle, “Somewhere in Maine,” closes out the recording.


One of Lyle’s bandmates in the Pat Metheny Group was Pedro Aznar, the band’s first vocalist and percussionist, who first appeared on the album First Circle. Returning the favor, Pat, Lyle, and drummer Danny Gottlieb appeared on Aznar’s 1984 album Contemplación. Here is the instrumental track “23” which features a solo by Lyle in the midsection.


Lyle’s final full-length album released in 2015 was actually recorded many years earlier, in 1993, at the Ludwigsburger Festival in Germany. The Ludwigsburg Concert was released on the SWR Music label as a two-CD set. The quartet here includes bassist Marc Johnson, Bob Sheppard (sax), and Mark Walker (drums, who would join the group Oregon in 1997 after the band’s original drummer and percussionist Colin Wolcott died in an automobile accident). Featured in this set are tracks from throughout Lyle’s career, and the album opens with a lengthy take on the title track from Fictionary.


Here’s the tune “August,” originally from Street Dreams, written for Lyle’s grandfather.


Finally, here is a full-length concert featuring Lyle Mays with fellow Pat Metheny Group member Steve Rodby on bass, Yellowjackets’ longtime drummer Will Kennedy, vibraphonist Dave Samuels, and guitarist Michael Sagmeister.


A companion Qobuz playlist highlighting most of the music in this Lyle Mays feature can be found here:

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