Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009


Lyle Mays: A remembrance by Bill Royston

By BILL ROYSTON: The founder of the Portland Jazz Festival with a fond remembrance of pianist Lyle Mays who passed away on February 20, 2020.

Pianist Lyle Mays passed away in Los Angeles on February 20, 2020 at age 66. Bill Royston is founder of the Portland Jazz Festival.  --Ed.


This is totally dvastating. So young and such a unique person. Did you know that Steven Cantor produced Lyle's first solo album? Steven has stories, but here is mine...

Many years ago, an old friend, the late Dave Samuels asked me to get involved with a band that was evolving called The Members. It was to be composed of 'members' from other visible groups including Dave Samuels (Spyro Gyra, vibes); Lyle Mays (Metheny Group, piano); Paul McCandless (various groups including early ECM group Gallery, sax); Will Kennedy (Yellowjackets, drums); and Steve Rodby (Metheny Group, bass).

The plan was for everyone to assemble in Dave's hometown of Fairfield, CT. Dave secured hotel rooms, and without rehearsal the band was scheduled to perform on a Sunday night at Fairfield University. My envisioned role was to be organizer and tour manager as I had with Vital Information (Steve Smith, Tom Coster, etc), and also bring the late John Blake, Philly jazz violinist. The group had a couple of tunes that they wanted to try with violin, and rationalized that John could be an honorary Member since he worked extensively with McCoy and Grover.

John and I left Philly in the middle of the night. Everyone was gathering at Dave's for a big breakfast. For some reason, Lyle never made it out of the hotel. John and I were to pick him up and bring him for pancakes. After driving all night, we were hungry but we couldn't find Lyle. We finally asked hotel staff, who soberly led us to a disheveled and abandoned sports bar. In the middle of the filthy room was a large overturned popcorn machine. Lyle lay next to the mess covered completely and buried in stale popcorn. I remember John asking if he was dead. Lyle raised his head and brushed off some popcorn and said "I'm not high. I'm not drunk. Let's go get breakfast."

We went for breakfast and hours of talking, but no rehearsing. The performance that night was amazing. Memorable. And Lyle was especially superb, but it was the last and only time for The Members. At the end of the night, we all realized that individual schedules and contracts would never permit this group to ever tour or record. We all left a little sad for what never became.

Dave died last fall at 70. John passed last summer at 68. Lyle today at 66. Thanks for listening to this. Let's have pancakes!

Post a comment:

Your Name:

Your Email Address:


2000 characters remaining




Hi Bill, thanks for that nice anecdote. Listening to a bootleg of exactly that show (do you have it?), I've searched for some info about it.
Interesting to hear about the band's name and the plans the might have had. I'm just enjoying Lyle's incredible Intro to "Fictionary", the 2nd tune they played that evening. On the other hand, it makes the immense loss unbearable... Didn't know that Dave passed recently, too. Another bad news.... All the best, Uwe

Web Design and Web Development by Buildable