FEW institutions of higher learning can boast of an official school song written by a jazz performer. At commencement ceremonies on Saturday the 1983 class of the University of the District of Columbia will be the first to publicly hear "Glorious UDC," with lyrics penned by fellow graduate Larry "Chilly" Mills and set to the music of faculty member Bobby Felder.
It's a big weekend for Mills, who has been playing vibraphone with UDC groups and in school programs around the area for several years but will make his debut on the club scene at the Park Place Cafe' on Friday and Saturday evening and on Sunday afternoon with a Mother's Day Special. His quintet will include pianist Judy Corey, bassist Eric Summers, percussionist Randy Swenson and vocalist Jennifer Lee.
Mills grew up in Charlottesville and started singing at the age of 4. "My grandmother played piano in church and that's where I got started," he says. He was playing piano himself not much later, "just a little bit, just enough to mess around," and was soon listening to the Motown Sound, to blues and jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan.
A piano major and voice minor when he entered UDC, Mills soon became fascinated with the marimba and then the vibraphone. He has written over 300 lyrics but at present does not make singing a part of his performance. "But I still sing just about every day, practicing," he confesses, "because I know eventually it's going to call for me to start singing a little bit again."