Jazz harpist born in Kansas whose career stretches back to the 1930s, when she and her husband Arnold, a sax man, were peripherally involved with Richard Himber and His Champions, and are featured in a movie short of the same name. Some of her early recordings are included on the 1940s anthologies, Beat the Band to the Bar and Golden Years of Jazz: 1940-1947.
She was also active in radio, appearing on The Carnation Contented Hour on WEAF on 23rd September 1946 with Percy Faith and His Orchestra. In the late ‘40s, she was heavily involved with Charlie Parker, appearing on Quintessence New York – Los Angeles – Toronto, Vol. 2: 1947-1954 and Charlie Parker For Lovers, featuring recordings dating from 1947 through 1954. Around the same time, she was also working with Sarah Vaughan, and many of those recordings can be heard on The Divine Sarah Vaughan: The Columbia Years 1949-1953.
She also did enough with The Sauter-Finegan Orchestra to land on The Best of Sauter-Finegan, parts of which were recorded on 3rd November 1952. In 1956, Verlye released her first solo album on the Hi-Fi label, The Magic Harp of Verlye Mills. A year later, she teamed up with Billy May—at May’s behest—for a collaboration entitled Harp with a Beat. They also worked together on Frank Sinatra’s travelogue, Come Fly with Me, recorded in part on 3rd October 1957. It is no surprise that Verlye made the cut on 1958’s compilation, Hi-Fi Variety. (Verlye performs “Latin Candy”.)
In 1959, Verlye and May resumed their artistic collaboration on Mel Torme Goes South of the Border with Billy May. She reunited with Mel Torme a couple of years later on Mel Torme: Round Midnight – A Perspective, and recorded Love Swings with Bobby Darin and Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Harold Arlen Song Book.
Fast-forward to the ‘70s: Verlye released Songs with Paul Parrish in 1971 and became actively involved with the American Harp Society the following year, performing William Collette’s “Three Movements for Harp and Flute”, with the composer on flute. In 1973, Verlye and co-author Stella Castellucci, a fellow harpist, published Rhythm for Harp, which has since been re-packaged with an accompanying CD. A couple of years later, she was involved in a series of workshops in St. Paul, Minnesota, again under the umbrella of the American Harp Society. In the late ‘70s, she recorded Motivation with Bob Crewe and appeared on the Frank Sinatra boxed set, Trilogy.
Other recordings on which she appears include The Complete Charlie Parker on Verve, Dorrnace Stalvey’s Metamorphosis, Marcy Tigner’s Trombone, Send in the Clowns: The Very Best of Sarah Vaughan, and Annette Warren’s …Being a Woman. There is also another solo album floating around out there, entitled The Two Sides of Verlye Mills, on the Vignette label, including her own take on “Tico Tico”, and sheet music for an arrangement of “Yesterday” by John Lennon and Paul McCartney, transcribed for harp.
She passed away in Los Angeles, California when she was 71 years old.
Here she is with the Billy May Orchestra on “C Sharp Minor Beat”…