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Maureen Choi at Cliff Bell's, 5 Things to Know

Growing up in Ann Arbor, violinist Maureen Choi envisioned a life in classical music.

She's done some of that -- and more.

Her mother a classically trained soprano, Choi, 36 and now living in Spain, began playing violin at the age of five and won several international youth competitions. She was pursuing a classical music degree at Michigan State University when jazz studies director Rodney Whitaker convinced her to expand her musical palette, which led to working with Kanye West, Trans-Siberian Orchestra, Josh Groban and more. Her first album, "Maureen Choi Quartet," featured a variety of Detroit's best jazz players, and she went on to teach music herself at the Berklee College of Music in Boston and now at Centro Superior Musica Creativa in Madrid.

Choi's latest album "Theia," came out in March and is her first in four years. It's sending the violinist and her quartet, which includes her husband on bass, around the world, both back home in Michigan and at festivals around the world...

• Choi says by phone that while the transition to jazz wasn't particularly difficult. "I didn't really fit in the classical world," she recalls. "As soon as I started improvising in Rodney's class, I just felt this immediate sense of liberation. I knew I had to pursue this. I felt pretty excited about creating a different path. I'd been playing classical violin since I was three, and of course I love and respect it, but to do something new and something different was really exciting for me.

• Her decision didn't go down smoothly at home, however. "It was a little difficult for my mom to understand. She studied in Vienna and taught in Korea. Her entire background is classical music. So when I started (playing jazz) she didn't quite understand it because she didn't understand jazz -- that's what she kept saying to me, 'I don't understand jazz.'"

• Choi says she's "real excited" to be coming back to Michigan to perform, "especially because 'Theia' really does reflect on how I've grown and how I’ve evolved as a musician living in Spain. This is the most Spanish sounding album I have, which makes sense because I live there. But I'm really excited to share it because the album displays all of who I am and all of my interests and all of my loves. Everything I love is in this album, so it makes sense to come back home and share it with my family and friends."

• "Theia" is Choi's second album, and first with the current lineup of her quartet. "You can definitely hear an evolution as a band and as individuals. Over the past six years of playing together we've shared a lot of experiences, and international. We all found jazz after classical training, and we take a lot of components and elements of what makes classical music, but we're still a jazz band with a lot of freedom. We're always improvising and creating a lot of space for us to shine. We've been playing these tunes for quite awhile and finally went in the studio in February and by that time they had taken so much shape. We we're able to record 11 tunes in two days, and I was really happy that the album sounds so close to how we sound when we play live."

• Playing with Kanye West while a sophomore at MSU, Choi says, "was one of those situations where you kind of walk away a little sad and disappointed in popular culture. The music is the least important thing; It's about the show, the lights, the clothes, the dancing -- everything is important other than the music. I was on stage playing with Kanye, looking out into the audience, and I saw all these people getting so excited but they couldn't hear the melodies because the bass was so loud. I was like, 'What is this about?' It was to make money, of course."

• Trans-Siberian Orchestra, meanwhile, "was a lot of fun. I only did a few gigs with them while I was living in New York for a year and a half, and only in New York. When you're there you say yes to everything, but I felt very lucky to have gotten on their shows."

The Maureen Choi Quartet performs at 8 p.m. Wednesday, June 19 at Cliff Bell's, 2030 Park Ave., Detroit. $10. 313-961-2543 or