Musician slash math teacher is not your normal multi-hyphenate, but for Portland trumpeter and keyboard player Jordan Vale, math educator is very much a part of his resume.
“Mr. Vale’s Math Class started as a nameless jazz quintet that, when asked to play a house show, decided to pivot and we made a set of groovy and fun party tunes,” tells Vale, who you can also catch with Roselit Bone, Plastic Cactus, Kulululu, Onion The Man, The Jack Maybe Project and Melao de Cuba. “While we were cranking out songs, we were riffing and having fun with the idea of how I was a math teacher and we wrote through the lens of a goofy, soulful math teacher.”
Last year, Vale gathered together his talented friends and recorded the appropriately titled Show Your Work, six songs reminiscent of the legendary Multiplication Rock but updated with flairs of funk, Latin beats, all sorts of horns and other bright, silly sounds, resulting in a jammy, Vulfpeck meets Mayer Hawthorne vibe.
Featuring Jessica Juday's fifth grade choir on “Walkin’,” the joyful ditty would feel right at home on Sesame Street. “The song was recorded at the math center I work at,” Vale says. “My boss, Bruce Withycombe, also a musician in town [playing baritone sax with Ural Thomas & the Pain], went ahead and let me use the space to record in. The whole band chipped in for different production steps and to make it happen. Our drummer David Hagen was the audio engineer and mixer, everyone brought all the mics and gear—it was a real group effort.”
The collaborative effort continued with the creation of the track’s video by bass player and 2D animation artist Matt Holmes (also of Illegal Son). “The decision to work with Matt was obvious because he's a great artist and integral part of the group,” Vale explains. “When making the video, I told him he could choose whichever song he'd like to and I think he decided to go with ‘Walkin’’ because of the fun vibe, and the lack of words made it so he could make his own math story.”
“When we're performing, it's not about teaching math but more communication and riffing on a thing that everyone has in common,” he continues. “People have strong opinions about math and it's fun to play with those opinions and get someone who enjoys math and hates math in the same room having fun.”