Jazz keyboardist Lyle Mays, who grew up in Marinette County, is up for a posthumous Grammy Award. His sister and niece will be there.

Lyle Mays grew up in McAllister in Marinette County and won 11 Grammy Awards with the Pat Metheny Group. He received a posthumous nomination for Sunday's Grammys for Best Original Composition for "Eberhard," a piece he premiered in 2009 at Lawrence University.
Lyle Mays grew up in McAllister in Marinette County and won 11 Grammy Awards with the Pat Metheny Group. He received a posthumous nomination for Sunday's Grammys for Best Original Composition for "Eberhard," a piece he premiered in 2009 at Lawrence University.
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UPDATE: Lyle Mays won his 12th Grammy Award on Sunday. His niece, Aubrey Johnson, accepted the posthumous award on his behalf at the Premiere Ceremony held earlier in the day. "In Lyle's words, to offer the world a better alternative is the purest form of protest. 'Eberhard' is Lyle's better alternative, a protest of all the world's injustices and a love letter to humanity," Johnson said during her speech.

For Joan Johnson, walking the red carpet at the Grammy Awards on Sunday will be both the thrill of a lifetime and incredibly bittersweet.

If only her brother could be there, too.

Lyle Mays is nominated for Best Instrumental Composition for “Eberhard,” a piece he premiered 13 years ago at Lawrence University in Appleton and lovingly worked on in the years after.

It’s a posthumous honor for Mays, who grew up in McAllister, Wisconsin, outside of Wausaukee in Marinette County, and died in 2020 at age 66 after an illustrious career as co-founder and keyboardist of jazz band the Pat Metheny Group. In his early years in the 1970s, he frequently performed in Green Bay as The Lyle Mays Quartet at the Beaumont Motor Inn and later as popular band the Vacant Lot at The Nite Club.

Mays was no stranger to the Grammys. He was nominated 24 times and won 11 awards over three decades, most recently in 2006 for Contemporary Jazz Album for Pat Metheny Group’s “The Way Up.” He appreciated the recognition but was too humble to ever let his talents be defined by his awards.

“He won 11 Grammys in his lifetime, which is remarkable, although Lyle didn’t live and die by how many people or organizations recognized his music,” said Johnson, his younger sister who lives in Suamico in a house designed by Mays nearly 30 years ago (architecture was also his passion).

“There was something otherworldly about his music," she said. "It wasn’t just like, ‘Oh wow, he’s really talented.' It touched people at the core of who they were and they recognized something. It evoked such emotion.”

For Mays' final recognition from the Recording Academy, Johnson and her daughter, New York-based jazz singer Aubrey Johnson, will represent him at the 64th annual ceremonies at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas.

His category will be among the awards handed out ahead of the prime-time broadcast at 7 p.m. Sunday on CBS, which focuses on main categories and star-studded performances. Joan and Aubrey, who are traveling to Vegas with a small contingency of close family, will be in attendance at both.

Should Mays win, Aubrey, a Bay Port High School graduate, will fittingly accept on behalf of her uncle. She performed wordless vocals on “Eberhard.” She’s also largely responsible for getting it out as an independent release last August, making it eligible as one of 450 submissions for Best Instrumental Composition and one of the five chosen nominees.

“No small feat,” Joan said.

Mays wrote the mini symphony specifically for the Zeltsman Marimba Festival at Lawrence University in 2009, where he lead a nine-piece group for a headlining concert. It honors renowned German bassist and composer Eberhard Weber, with whom Mays performed early in his career and was influenced by. Mays called it “my humble tribute to Eberhard.”

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Joan was in the audience during its premiere at Lawrence, as was their mother, Doris. It was the first time Aubrey performed with her uncle and mentor.

“It was a thrill,” Joan said, recalling a lengthy standing ovation from the audience in the middle of the performance. “It was powerful and people knew this was something special. Lyle always kind of broke boundaries. He wasn’t a traditional jazz player and never thought of himself that way. He was influenced by so many other genres.

“He always thought of himself as more of a composer than a jazz musician and very classically influenced, so this is really a jazz symphony. It’s a 13-minute piece. It’s just an incredible work and kind of his final gift to the world. He knew he was likely not going to make it.”

As was typical with Mays, who was less interested in touring later in his career, he expanded and re-orchestrated the original work in the years after to include 16 musicians, adding parts for a cello quartet, bass clarinet, clarinet, flute and alto flute, among others, as well as new layers of his own signature synthesizers.

"He was meticulous about everything," Joan said, "and anyone who was involved in the project will tell you that."

“Eberhard” was recorded from August 2019 through January 2020 in California. It was Mays’ final recording. He died a month later, on Feb. 10, 2020, after a long battle with an undisclosed, recurring illness.

Aubrey, who is an executive producer on the project, was instrumental in getting it released on digital, vinyl and CD and keeping his fans connected to the project at lylemays.com.

“(Brazilian musician) Nando Lauria said he could hear Lyle's love bursting out of the piece, and I believe that's what it is: a love letter to his family, friends, and fans,” Aubrey wrote on Mays’ website.

Joan is certain this Grammy nomination would have been especially meaningful for Mays, because it’s a composer’s award. So many admired him as a brilliant jazz keyboardist, but deep down, her brother was most proud to be a composer, she said.

His family will be hoping to make it “an even dozen” Grammy Awards on Sunday, but more than that Joan will be thinking about her brother’s entire body of work, the gift that it will be for generations to come and how proud he would be of Aubrey to honor him and follow in his musical footsteps.

“Just a devastating loss of course when he passed, but I always tell people ... Lyle’s music lives on in the hearts of all who listen. He has really left an incredible legacy.”

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Contact Kendra Meinert at 920-431-8347 or kmeinert@greenbay.gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter @KendraMeinert.

This article originally appeared on Green Bay Press-Gazette: Lyle Mays' family will be at Grammy Awards for his final nomination