James Tyler, 70, a versatile musician who was the founding director of the early-music program at the University of Southern California, died Nov. 23 after a short illness.

He was best known for playing the lute and specialized in early-music performances, which include 800 years of compositions covering the Medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque periods, until 1750. Musicians play original instruments or ones patterned after those used during the period.

He went to USC in 1986 as the founding director of the school's early-music program and a professor of music history and literature.

Adam Gilbert, who took over the program after Mr. Tyler's retirement in 2006, said Mr. Tyler left a legacy of scholarship and recordings. "If you look at a list of his students, it's a Who's Who of who on the West Coast is doing early music," Gilbert said.

Mr. Tyler studied the mandolin and banjo as a teenager in Hartford, Conn., and later the lute and early-music performance with Joseph Iadone, a professor at the Hartt College of Music. By the early 1960s, he had joined the early-music ensemble New York Pro Musica, with which he first recorded, and the Consort Players, who performed at the White House in 1963.

He studied early music in Germany in 1968 and moved to England the following year. There he recorded and performed with several groups, including David Munrow's Early Music Consort of London. - Los Angeles Times