By on July 1, 2003

It’s raining lightly in Harlem, but the day’s business is taking place indoors, in a funky, Afrocentric boutique known simply as “The Brownstone.” Tony Haywood, the founder of HiPNOTIC records, is up fromWashington D.C. to supervise a photo shoot for guitarist Jeff Ray‘s The Walkup, the next CD slated for release on the label. (Full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes for The Walkup.)

The Brownstone’s lightswitch covers are delicately hand-painted; its fully functional hair salon looks and feels more like a living room. A tall, slender African-American woman carefully irons the shirts that Ray will soon pose in. Meanwhile, Ray relaxes in a T-shirt and sweats, listening to his own record on a boombox cranked to high volume. The drummer on the album, Victor Wise, sips a Heineken as he browses the nearest available magazine, Manhattan Bride. Haywood is positioned, smiling and stock-still, on the impressive wooden staircase, standing in as a model while the crew adjusts its lights and equipment. The photographer is Haywood’s cousin. It doesn’t get much more “indie” than this.

HiPNOTIC is the ultimate labor of love and still in its formative stages, with only five releases as of this writing (including The Walkup). There’s a good reason for Haywood’s relatively slow pace: “day gig” doesn’t begin to describe his work as minority counsel for the House Committee on Government Reform.


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Congressional Hearing:

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 detail—a string of violin lessons he took when he was about 9 years old, a few years of piano training throughout elementary school—before putting the information into his barely audible sentences. But when I ask him why he started his own jazz record label— HiPNOTIC Records—last 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 artists—an “incubator for the future of music,” as he calls it.