Maureen Choi: A Fusion of Passion and Intent

Jim Worsley By

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AAJ: It's a process then of several fine-tuning sessions to meet those objectives.

MC: We have created the voice together, yes. The style continues to grow as we have played a lot of shows together and know each other very well. We are very close. After we bring it to the band, it becomes a finished product.

AAJ: Pianist Daniel Garcia Diego and drummer Michael Olivera are the bandmates you refer to. How did your rhythm section come to join the band?

MC: Dani and Mario lived together in Boston when they were studying at Berklee. They were already friends, and I met Dani at Berklee as well, right before he went back to Spain. Dani has a great background in classical music and techniques. He also is into flamenco, jazz, and Spanish folklore. When we moved to Spain, we knew that he was the guy to call. We didn't have a drummer since we had just arrived in Spain. So, we went out scouting for a drummer. We went to concerts and clubs and came across Michael playing one night. We knew right away. After the concert we just went and asked him if he would like to be part of the band. He said to send him the music and, well...

AAJ: The rest is history.

MC: Exactly, exactly.

AAJ: About ten years ago, you had a very impactful moment in your life. We can respectfully move on if reliving that nightmare is uncomfortable for you. However, it is an important story for people to understand what you have been through and the courage it took to come back from it.

MC: I don't mind talking about the accident. After I got the jazz bug in my ear at Michigan State, I went on to study with a teacher at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis. I had been studying there about a year and a half when I had the accident. I was driving back to Minneapolis from Ann Arbor after seeing my family for Christmas. It happened at a time when I was really at a crossroads to stay with the classical music and try to get a job in an orchestra or teaching. To do the right thing. I thought, how on earth at twenty-five years old, am I suddenly going to start a career in jazz. I had dedicated my life to that point to classical music. So how do you just start over like that? I had a lot fear and apprehension about having to start a new career from scratch. Most of my friends were getting their doctorates and starting to make money. So, there was the pressure to start making money. Fear, and cultural pressures, and my own self-imposed expectations, were making it a difficult time for me to decide what I wanted to do. I was trying to figure all that out when the car accident happened. I couldn't play the violin for two years.

AAJ: Did the doctors say that you would never be able to play again?

MC: Yes, because I broke nine vertebrates. Three in my neck, and six in my thoracic spine. The accident was horrific. I escaped death. I was lucky that I didn't damage my spinal cord, or I wouldn't even be walking. The doctor told my mom I would never play again. But she didn't tell me that until a long time after I had healed and was already playing again. She didn't want to put that on me and further kill my mood.

AAJ: That was smart. That would have added depression on top of what you were already dealing with.

MC: Yes. It was the smart thing to do. In my head I was going to recover, and I was going to play again. That's what I was working on.

AAJ: The accident, in the long run, made the decision for you. Under the heading of life is too short and doing what you want to do.

MC: It was the catalyst, yes. That's when I applied to Berklee with that goal in mind. Before the accident, I don't know if I would have had enough courage to audition at Berklee.

AAJ: One more question in regard to the accident, and then we will move on. How much did it affect your overall mobility? The real question here is, can you still dance? We have talked about how important that has been for you.

MC: Yes, I was lucky. I have full mobility now. I can do everything. For a longtime I had a lot of pain and muscle atrophy. I had to go to physical therapy five days a week. The healing process took a long time. I still have to maintain my back with physical therapy. I will likely be doing that for the rest of my life. But I take that over dying (much laughter).

AAJ: (laughing along with her) Well, I am glad that you are able to laugh now and put it behind you. There is a lot of life put into your performances. Having seen your quartet play recently, at the Bacchus Kitchen in Pasadena, I was struck by the degree of passion you all have for your music. It must be exhilarating and inspiring to be surrounded by that kind of passion and to live in that environment.

MC: Yes, Very much so, yes. I feel very lucky that the people that I share my life with, and share a stage with, all have a certain kind of intensity. It's one of the reasons that we come together so well. There is also a lot of intention behind everything we do. We are very detail oriented. When we go on tour, we want to make sure that everyone is happy and comfortable. We don't want anything to get in the way of that focus and intensity you need to have to perform at the highest level.

AAJ: Well, what I saw and heard that night was exceptional. Breathtaking really. Where might folks be able to catch a performance in the coming months?

MC: We are going to Asia in September. We will be all over China, Korea, and Taiwan. We are always playing in Spain when we are not on tour. In the early part of next year, in March, we will return for another tour of the United States.

AAJ: That's outstanding. Well I know it's getting late (nearly 9:30 P.M. in Madrid) and I should probably let you go.

MC: I suppose so, its nearly dinner time.

AAJ: That had to be an adjustment to get used to eating dinner so much later than what is customary in the states?

MC: Yes, we have dinner between nine and eleven. It makes sense because it is so sunny and warm here. It doesn't make sense to have dinner when the sun is blasting.

AAJ: That does indeed make sense. It also allows you to have something to look forward to and finish up your day with. So, I shall let you do that. Thank you very much for the conversation. I enjoyed it very much.

MC: Thank you. It was really nice talking with you too. Hopefully I will see you again in March when we tour the states.

AAJ: Count on it. Goodnight for now.
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