By Carly Davis
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday Jan. 16, 2002
A career shaped by style as much as substance propelled one UA alumnus from the Tucson swing scene to the New York City offices of Comedy Central's burgeoning record label.
Jack Vaughn, who graduated from the University of Arizona in 1996, traces his interest in producing and distributing music back to high school when he worked with several bands. The son of foreign-service workers, Vaughn went to high school in Guatemala.
"It was a terrific cultural experience, but for a teen-ager with Embassy restrictions, it was boring and dangerous," he said.
Playing drums in several high school groups, Vaughn developed a do-it-yourself ethic and began producing music for himself and his friends.
"I started a label called Third World Underground in high school; when I got to (the) University of Arizona, I made it a legitimate company," Vaughn said. "By the time I graduated, we had released 25 titles."
After a post-graduation job as an investment banker in New York, Vaughn returned to Tucson and founded Slimstyle Records in January 1997.
"For the first year, Slimstyle was predominantly a ska label. Pretty much no swing bands who were making this innovative music had labels and so we wanted to produce them," Vaughn said.
As a fan of ska and then of swing music, Vaughn only pursues the music that he himself enjoys, believing - and proving - that if he enjoys a certain sound, there must be other people who do too.
"For me, 75 percent of the battle is you're really, really enjoying the music and wanting to buy it as a fan," Vaughn said. "The remaining 25 percent is business concerns and logistics."
Vaughn molded Slimstyle into the nation's largest swing label. One highlight of the Slimstyle album catalog is the Swing This, Baby series. The three-volume set was a critical and commercial success.
"The first Swing This, Baby sold a quarter of a million copies, earning a spot on the Billboard chart, which is unusual for a compilation," he said.
As Vaughn put it on the Slimstyle Web site in July 1998, "People seem to like it, and it's selling like hotcakes. Bands like Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, The Cherry Poppin' Daddies, The Brian Setzer Orchestra, The New Morty Show, Royal Crown Revue and Blue Plate Special are all on it as well as 10 others and every song is a winner."
The Swing This, Baby albums became a barometer of swing's popularity, and its eventual decline.
"Swing This, Baby I came out right before swing hit (Aug. 11, 1998), and sold more than 200,000 copies worldwide. The second album sold 25,000 to 30,000 copies, and the third sold fewer than 5,000 copies," he said.
For the last two years, his attention has shifted to another genre altogether: the comedy album. He has been working on a business plan for a comedy label with the cable network Comedy Central. Comedy albums have been in decline since the '70s. But swing music was largely dormant before Slimstyle and Jack Vaughn brought swing to the pop charts.
"Comedy Central already has the infrastructure in place. They are set up for comedy," Vaughn said. "One of the things that really attracted me to Comedy Central is my perception of them being innovative and sort of risk-taking, like the shows 'Mystery Science Theatre 3000,' 'Strangers With Candy,' and 'South Park.' Because of that innovation, they have some of the best programming on television, bar none."
Using his own sense of humor as a yardstick, just as his own musical tastes guided Slimstyle, Vaughn wants to promote innovative comedians.
"I like humor that is a little left-of-center," he said.