Gabe Pollack, the museum’s director of performing arts, and Evan Sanders, bass vocalist in Accent, sat down for a conversation with Cleveland Art about the group’s holiday performance at the CMA.
Gabe, how did you first hear about Accent?
GP: I first heard of Accent in 2016 while working at Bop Stop. When I realized that Evan was originally from Northeast Ohio, I thought it would be amazing to present the band in Cleveland. I booked Accent for a show in March 2017. When the performance day arrived, I met the band and everyone was excited. Unfortunately, Bop Stop lost power that day.
We were able to move the concert to SPACES, where the band performed an unplugged, acoustic set. The show was fantastic despite the setback, but I vowed to have the band back to Cleveland to perform when there wasn’t a power outage. Accent returned to Bop Stop in 2019, and I am now thrilled to present the group on a bigger stage in beautiful Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Evan, how did Accent form?
ES: Accent is a happy accident that could have only occurred in this century. Our current members were on YouTube creating vocal jazz multitrack videos individually, and we discovered each other online. Before long, we were collaborating virtually on video projects. After a few years, we started booking live performances, and we went from a virtual group to an in-person one.
How does Accent fit into the history of vocal music, and how does the group push that music in new directions?
ES: We honor the rich tradition of jazz a cappella. We credit groups like the Hi-Lo’s, the Manhattan Transfer, and Take 6 for their trailblazing arrangements and performance ethics.
Professional jazz vocal groups are rare these days, so we have an important challenge of staying relevant. In addition to originals, we have fun taking songs from any genre and arranging them in our style. We love collaborating with other artists in other genres, which has allowed us to cross into pop, jazz, Broadway, gospel, and more. When you consider social media platforms like TikTok, you discover people craving vocal harmony everywhere.
What is it like performing internationally as a vocal group in your genre?
ES: The experience of traveling is a privilege. We’ve performed at some of the world’s greatest festivals and in many historic venues. It’s interesting to see how different countries handle their programming. In the United States, we often divide by genre. In Europe, we’re often the only jazz group at a “choral” or “classical” festival, while the rest are ensembles like Chanticleer or VOCES8.
We don’t feel that the audiences appreciate us any less. Audiences appreciate many subgenres of vocal music when they are performed at a high level. That’s why we’re so grateful that the CMA brings in diverse programming. The US is such a big, diverse place and it’s tricky to find your circuit, but it’s encouraging to see how younger listeners especially embrace genre-bending artists.
What will Accent’s performance add to the performing arts series this season?
GP: Accent is a great addition to the performing arts series at the CMA. The museum has a long history of presenting vocal ensembles, although most of them perform classical or early music. Vocal music spans many genres, and I want to showcase the breadth of the genre. At the same time, it is important to support not only national and international acts but also groups with local connections. Because Accent is an internationally acclaimed ensemble that features a member from Northeast Ohio, it is a perfect fit.
What excites you most about the upcoming performance?
ES: When we finally found the right balance of harmony, personality, and storytelling, everything clicked. People often come up to us after shows and say, “We knew how you’d sound, but we didn’t know you’d be so much fun!” We love that we can take the audience from Bach to jazz standards to classic rock to pop but still sound like ourselves. Since it will be the holiday season, we’ll dust off some arrangements from our Christmas album. We’re excited to share all of this with Cleveland, a very special city for us.
Accent will perform in Gartner Auditorium on Friday, December 8, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are available at cma.org or by calling the ticket center at 216-421-7350.