There’s still time to nominate local icons for Best of D.C.
Tony Haywood divides his time between the Man and the music.
Tony Haywood doesn’t exactly strike you as the visionary type. As we’re talking inside Blues Alley, his monotone whispers evaporate into the background music coming through the club’s speakers. There are moments when it’s easier to pick out bits of dialogue from neighboring tables than to hear what 33-year-old Haywood, who’s sitting right next to me, is saying. He’s talking about his early exposure to jazz: listening to the radio as a kid in the back seat of his father’s 1969 Alfa Romeo while riding through the streets of his hometown, Los Angeles.
Haywood’s bronze-colored face looks pensive in the glow of a votive candle burning atop our table. He mulls over each autobiographical detaila string of violin lessons he took when he was about 9 years old, a few years of piano training throughout elementary schoolbefore putting the information into his barely audible sentences. But when I ask him why he started his own jazz record label HiPNOTIC Recordslast year, he pauses and responds, “Well, I’d rather talk about that later.”
If Haywood has the bureaucratic disposition of a government counsel, that’s because he is one. By day, he works for the U.S. House of Representatives, investigating events such as the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas. But for the past year, Haywood has spent almost every evening and weekend pursuing his vision of a record label that promotes a new generation of composition-oriented jazz artistsan “incubator for the future of music,” as he calls it.
“The label’s been my entire life outside of work,” Haywood says. “I’ve enjoyed leading a dual existence, because I find both my day and night jobs fulfilling. In order for me really to grow my label as I’d like to, though, I’ll eventually have to find a way to create more time for myself to conduct the label’s business.”
Haywood’s vision crystallized in January 2000, when he attended the annual International Association of Jazz Educators (IAJE) conference in New Orleans with Baltimore clarinet player Darryl Harper. Harper was one of only three black students on Haywood’s dormitory floor at Amherst College, nearly 15 years ago; the other two were Haywood and his roommate. After graduating, Harper moved to Philadelphia, and in 1997 he landed in Baltimore, where he now directs an arts center for students in kindergarten through 12th grade. For his part, Haywood bounced from a congressional post in D.C. to law school in New York and back again to a higher post in the House.
In 1996, Haywood’s and Harper’s paths converged again when Haywood penned a promotional brochure for a scattered network of musicians in Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York that his old college buddy Harper had organized into a group called the Onus. Haywood has acted as the band’s manager, booker, and promoter ever since. “Prior to the [IAJE] conference,” recalls Haywood, “I was thinking that I wanted to establish an identity for myself outside of the Onus. I wanted to have a real stake in something.”
At the conference, Haywood learned about the Orchard, a warehouse that distributes compact discs to online sellers such as Amazon and CDNOW. He immediately proposed the label idea to Harper. “We sort of jumped in it together. The Onus was like his pilot group,” says 32-year-old Harper. “Tony already had a lot of footholds in different communities from his public policy work on Capitol Hill, his time in New York and at Amherst, and his connections in L.A. He’s poised in a way to deliver the music to a new audience.”
Haywood headed up distribution for the Onus’ sophomore album, Reoccurring Dream, which was released last August. He’s sold 200 of the initial pressing of 1,000 thus far. HiPNOTIC’s second record, Orrin Evans’ Seed, was released last November. It was the first album that Haywood actually helped produce, entailing a personal investment of $4,500 on his part. A forthcoming record by Onus bassist Matthew Parrish is slated for a springtime release. Haywood says that the Parrish project will set him back $10,000 and that he will be in the red for at least another year until sales have time to pick up.
In a 1996 promotional brochure for Harper, Haywood wrote, “The Onus reflects…the responsibility each musician bears for advancing the jazz legacy.” It’s a burden that Haywood felt long before he founded his own record label.
Haywood’s father and his paternal grandfather each carved out a distinguished medical career, and his great-grandfather served in the North Carolina Legislature during Reconstruction. Haywood’s maternal grandfather, Myles A. Paige Jr., was the third African-American to graduate from Columbia Law School, earning his degree there a year after Paul Robeson graduated. In 1936, Paige became the first appointed black judge in the country since Reconstruction.
Following in their footsteps, Haywood pursued medical internships during his college years and graduated from Columbia Law School in 1995. And he still wonders about his true calling. “A lot of things that appeal to me in the abstract don’t necessarily hold my attention in reality,” Haywood says. “I love the idea of being a doctorof being a cardiologist like my dad and making contributions like he’s made. But I was never good at science and math. And my original idea of being a civil rights lawyerI don’t know why that hasn’t happened.”
On the day Haywood was scheduled to take the New York bar examination in 1995, for instance, he wandered instead to 48th Street in Manhattan and purchased a Martin student trumpeta brand of horn that Miles Davis played.
Though his family tree worked philanthropically through the channels of law and medicine, Haywood wants to channel his own brand of advocacy through the music business. “I’m coming from a very Du Boisian placethe whole ‘Talented Tenth’ thing,” says Haywood, referring to W.E.B. Du Bois’ call for the most talented stratum of society to bear responsibility for the masses.
When I ask Haywood again why he started HiPNOTIC, he pulls a piece of paper bearing a few typewritten words from his briefcase. He worked out a rough outline so he could articulateand remind himselfwhy he was pouring all his free time into the label. The label grew out of his friendship with Harper, he says, before embarking on a soft-spoken tirade about the current state of black music.
“I had a desire to share music with people,” Haywood says. “Not just for my benefit or for Darryl’s benefit, but for the benefit of the music. I wasn’t too impressed with pop music that people were listening to, especially what young black professionals were listening to. A lot of today’s popular music is lacking in depth and sincerity, and that doesn’t bode well for the culture.
“And as an African-American,” he continues, “I’m especially concerned with my own community. A lot of music today communicates a lack of respect for self and others and a lack of expectations.”
In thinking up the label’s moniker, HiPNOTIC, Haywood strove to encapsulate his mission in a word. “The word ‘hip’ originally meant ‘new genius,’ and what’s going on now in jazz music is new and has value,” he says. “I want to get people beyond what’s popular and superficial.”
The current climate of hiphop and R&B doesn’t provide ideal conditions for jazz-label upstarts. But Haywood sees a void to be filled and more than enough musicians to enlist in that cause. “There’s been a certain resurgence in jazz music that I think Wynton had a lot to do with,” he says. “There are more young artists coming up today than at any time in the last 30 years.”
With a few recordings under his belt and a dozen more respected artists interested in recording projects, Haywood needs to sell some albums to make a go of HiPNOTIC. He’s distributing the label’s CDs exclusively online, through HiPNOTIC’s Web site and other Internet outlets served by the Orchard. Much of the time that Haywood devotes to HiPNOTIC is spent constructing a presence that’s not merely virtual: nagging critics to review his artists and firing off e-mails about the label.
“I’m at a crossroads right now,” Haywood says. “If I’m gonna take on additional projects, I’m going to have to take on investors and really structure the company. I want to start a massive promotion campaign and hire a promoter to call stations. Right now, the objective is to not lose money. I guess the reward to date has been somewhat spiritual.”
In person, Haywood appears to be the antithesis of jazz personified. His diction is jagged, and long stretches of silence pass between his words. Sometimes, the spaces are nearly endless.
It wasn’t until my final meeting with Haywood that I realized that he not only considers the social implications and financial viability of jazz, but also feels the music personally. At the end of our interview, he sits down behind the huge black electric keyboard that fills up most of his home office and begins fingering a ballad he wrote in December. Haywood plays a slow, sweet melody that glides over thick chords as a stone might skip across a stream. His fingers move somewhat mechanically against the keys, but the beauty of the music transcends its delivery.
Haywood wrote the songas yet untitledas a companion to a lazy blues piece called “I Wonder,” which the Onus recorded on its last album. After playing portions of other self-penned worksincluding a blues reworking of the Commodores’ “Fancy Dancer” and a few lines of what Haywood calls “experiments in minimalism, keeping the same chords on top and moving the bass around, and vice versa”the newly revealed jazzman heads for his $1,300 Martin Committee trumpet.
Haywood slides the silver horn off of its floor stand, cues up Reoccurring Dream on the stereo, and points the instrument toward the floor at a 45-degree angle as he blows along to “I Wonder.” Then he skips three tracks to Harper’s “Narcolepsy” and mirrors the electric guitar’s melody, before battling its perfectly tangled bars of solo.
“He has a great sense of melody, and he makes some really interesting references in his harmonic language to Mingus,” says Harper, who’s transcribed a half-dozen of Haywood’s pieces. “He makes use of the blues a lot and has a penchant for ballad writing.”
“I want to develop as a composer,” Haywood says. “That’s one of the motives that went into creating the label. I want to get my own music out there. I would love to write a standard, but my immediate goal is to get some compositions recorded.”
It’s nearly 10 p.m. by the time Haywood stops playing the trumpet. He says he’s going to meet a few friends and unwind from the week. When I leave his apartment and reach the end of the block, I hear a muffled blast cutting through the night: It’s the sound of Haywood blowing through his horn, his music creeping out the window and into the world. CP