Emi Meyer in Seattle – Jazz of the NW and Japan

After two sakura posts I think it’s time for a change of pace before the last of the sakura shots (of my niece and brother’s family). I decided that it would be nice to put up some shots I’ve taken of an amazing jazz artist I’ve had the pleasure of working with these last few weeks. (To skip straight to the pics go to my flickr site!ย Or see video here.)

Set 1: Sushi Kappo Tamura, 4-01-2011


I met Emi purely by chance. My friend Tomoka, a kouhai (junior) of mine from Carleton, was helping to put on several charity concerts at local sushi restaurants to support Japan relief; I got an email one day in the last week of March with a plea for a PA system for Friday and Saturday night shows. After helping Professor Arai put on media presentations at the end of winter quarter I was well acquainted with UW’s fantasticย  Classroom Support Services network – which rents out, for free to students, literally any kind of electronic device you could need for any kind of presentation. Including PA systems. I offered my services and was happily accepted; could I set it up with Emi about the details for the shows?

I had finally landed a “gig” with a real artist; would this be my first step towards my dream career of concert photographer/videographer/tour groupie? Getting my head out of the clouds I decided to just have fun and enjoy the experience – that is until I actually rented the PA system (and the EF-s 10-22mm! Boy what a fun lens ๐Ÿ™‚ ). Whooboy. Would this thing – the Fender Passport 150 PA – be loud enough? Would it support Emi’s keyboard and the mics simultaneously? Would we need the myriad of wireless mics I also borrowed from CSS? And what if something didn’t work (and during testing I had many of these moments)? It seems like the “dream career” wasn’t going as smoothly as planned. Nevertheless I did the best I could in gathering all the equipment, tested it as thoroughly as possible, and crossed my fingers that I all hell wasn’t going to break loose.ย And when I got to the restaurant, all of that was pushed to the background. I met the co-owner of Friday night’s venue, Sushi Kappo Tamura, Steve, who asked me right off the bat, “So, have you eaten? Do you want to meet Emi and her parents?”

It was one of those semi-surreal moments where you don’t know what’s going to happen; after all, meeting a performing artist for the first time (and her family no less) and immediately sitting down at the bar to have some sushi with them was…unimaginable to me, oh lowly little peon-of audio and video ๐Ÿ˜€ But after introductions and a little bit of chatting, plus a nice, tall glass of Sapporo import, I loosened up and just enjoyed myself and the opportunity I had to do something I loved for a good cause. And eat some amazing sushi at that, courtesy of Taichi-san, the head chef and co-owner.

The night kind of flew by – after some food and drink I set up the PA system and we worked through a few kinks before everything was running smoothly. Emi played an amazing set, and I tried (sometimes in great frustration) to take some shots of her from different angles and places in the restaurant. And by the time I knew it the night was over and we’d moved on to the CD-selling, autographing, picturing taking segment. Little did I know that starting from this night I would become “CD-0pener extraordinaire” – more on that at the next couple shows ๐Ÿ˜› Below are a few more from the show, ย the rest can be found on my flickr site here.

Emi with Taichi and his wife Kaoru

Set 2: I Love Sushi Bellevue, 4-02-2011

The 2nd show I helped with was the day after the first show. This time it was at I Love Sushi in Bellevue, which would prove to be a much different venue from the previous night at Sushi Kappo Tamura. ย I had gone to Sakura Matsuri at the Seattle Center in the afternoon to help Dillon with his Wakayama Umeboshi Pizza stand and to take some pictures; incidentally I ended up as hawker for beef bowls (็‰›ไธผ) as well as the kind ladies were sharing the same table. I should have had a cardboard sandwich on, as much as I was yelling out “Fresh beef bowls! Delicious Umeboshi Pizza!” The plan was to take the bus back home at around 3, which would give me plenty of time to show up at the restaurant at around 6 for a 7:30 show. To my horror, though, I hadn’t looked up what bus to take back from the Seattle Center area!! Thankfully, one call to Sarah put that out of mind (love you Sarah :P), and soon enough I was happily on my way back home…that is until I missed my connecting bus by 3 minutes…! ๐Ÿ˜ฆ Needless to say I was pulling my hair out the entire drive to Bellevue (which, thankfully, was mostly traffic free).

I arrived at the restaurant at 6:15, and luckily Emi and her family had not yet arrived. Saved, somehow! I walked in and spoke to the managers and owner and by that time Emi and her folks had pulled in. I helped her father set the keyboard up and then set the speakers up as well. Unlike the last show we didn’t have time to eat prior, but since she was playing two shows the plan was for food between sets. I had a bit more time to set up my Zoom H4n for some audio recording; the recording of the first show was trashed after I realized I had left the recording volume set to over 90! I made sure to set it to a more reasonable 55 this time around ๐Ÿ˜€

Between sets I sat down and ate with some of Emi’s friends (and their family). It was nice to be able to relax a little and talk with Emi about…stuff. It’s funny how your idea of what a “performing artist” is changes after you meet one and find that they love to have a good time just like the rest of us ๐Ÿ™‚ The food was great (you can see the tempura roll above), and of course the beer, this time Asahi (my favorite!). The venue was also much roomier, and made for more of a “dinner” performance feel. In contrast to the previous venue, where many of the customers were younger, out for a nice night of sushi on the town, the customers here were often long time patrons. It made for two different nights of music, food, and fun, both equally outstanding. Best of all, Emi was gracious enough to play some of her new songs that she doesn’t often do live, so we were treated to two sets of outstanding music to top off the night! At the end of the night was another meet-and-greet with more CD selling (opened by your’s truly haha) and autographs. More pics below, you can see the rest of the set here.

Mom, Dad, friends and family watch on

Set 3: UW JSA Matsuri, 4-16-2011

I’d actually gone to the JSA Matsuri to see another of my friends, Junko, who was singing with a J-Ska band Jaska (they were awesome by the way!). Afterwards, as I was talking to Carlo (another friend of mine), one of the members of the Taiko group who was on deck came up to me and asked me if I would be willing to shoot their performance and then email them the pictures for use on their website. I had originally planned to take off to the library after seeing Junko and co, but decided that I couldn’t say no and so took them up on their proposition. By then the wind had picked up and it had started to get a bit chilly, but seeing the Taiko group’s hotblooded routine really got the crowd (however small) going! As I was finishing up with the group’s shoot I looked on stage to see who was setting up, and lo and behold it was none other than Emi!

I quickly spotted her parents and went to say hi before going up to talk to Emi for a little before she closed for the entire festival. It was really a pleasure to shoot this set because it was outside and I had a lot more freedom of movement compared to the other indoor shoots. I also pulled out my 70-200 f/2.8 L and was able to do some major isolation on Emi and totally blow the backgrounds away (not to mention the amazing bokeh on the lens!). The PA system was quite nice and I regretted not bringing my Zoom H4n, but had to remind myself that you can’t always do everything all the time!

After the show Emi was again mobbed by students and viewers wanting to buy her CDs and chat a bit. I was constantly amazed through all of the shows I’ve seen that Emi always managed to talk to every single person who camee to buy CDs or just say hi. Even if it’s just a simple greeting or learning someone’s name; it’s really something else to see an artist give so much love back to their fans (Jake Shimabukuro is also someone who I really, really respect on this count). And of course, you know it, Mr. CD opener was there doing his diligent duty ๐Ÿ˜€ See more pics below and the rest of the set here.

Emi and me after the set!

Set 4: Jazz for Japan @ Kirkland Performance Center, 4-18-2011

Emi was playing at Jazz for Japan, a jazz performance put on for Japan relief efforts (through Peacewinds). There were several other big names and a big band (or two?) playing in an auditorium – quite the change of pace! Everyone was dressed nicely and I wore my suit just to make sure people didn’t get on my case about me shooting…VIDEO! Yep, after seeing a fellow 7D shooter using the 50 f/1.2 shooting an awesome vid at UW JSA Matsuri I decided to give it a go as well during Emi’s part of the show. Of course, with my H4n I can now do separate audio and video, allowing me to bypass the awful auto gain control on the 7D and get clean, crisp audio to go along with the beautiful 24fps 1080p source video from the 7D. With my 70-200 L I was just able to capture Emi plus the entire band, and then zoom in tight on Emi during some parts. While my tripod work needs some practice (a new tripod and head would probably also do wonders), I was really satisfied with how it all came out. I slapped the whole thing together (video, audio, titles, etc) in iMovie, and you can see it in all of it’s glory here! ๐Ÿ™‚

It was a great set; I’d never heard Emi live with a band and it was definitely worth the drive to Kirkland. At intermission, I packed up my stuff and headed into the foyer and there was Emi with crowd twice as big as usual ๐Ÿ˜€ This time though she had THE TOOL OF TOOLS – a “CD-Opener”! Not a reference to me (haha) but an actual plastic device that you slip on top of the CD, slide it across and viola! Plastic wrap off. It goes without saying that it was an immense help!

So there you have it. Three weeks, four shows, and one extra long blog post later! It’s been an amazing experience to be able to shoot Emi (both pics and video), listen to her music and see her interact with her fan base. Hopefully she does more shows in Seattle in the future, and you know I’ll be there to report with pictures (and hopefully video!). Thanks for reading, stop by again soon!

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One thought on “Emi Meyer in Seattle – Jazz of the NW and Japan

  1. One thing that always strikes me when I see your people and event photography is that you really work to get various effective angles and perspectives, and it definitely pays off. Loving not only the dynamic shots with the 10-22, but also the moody indoor lighting and clean bokeh of the 50/1.4 (especially on that rainy night), and of course the 70-200 shots outside where you were able to blow away the background and highlight just how beautiful Emi is. Great work all around bro — it was very enjoyable hearing all about it as each event unfolded =D

    Though I don’t think I’ll be making it to her concert over here in late May, I’m looking forward to more pictures and stories from the next time you meet her!

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