Jose Eduardo Mendoza Lopez – Director, Composer, Arranger, Lead vocals
Before moving to Canada in 2004, Mendoza made his living as a professional musician for more than 15 years in Cuba.
A singer and songwriter, Mendoza toured all over Cuba performing as the lead singer in several bands, recording, and appearing on radio and television. He has composed more than 70 songs—many of which are known in his native Cuba. Mendoza’s rich voice is the perfect accompaniment to his fiery and hypnotic compositions and arrangements. A fearless and spirited performer, he captivates audiences with his seductive moves and beats.
Apart from music, Mendoza’s other talents make him a real “jack of all trades.” As a young man—before making it in music—he gained knowledge and experience as a carpenter, plumber, painter, mason, and electrician. Between the ages of 19 and 21, he served for three compulsory years in the Cuban National Army. Mendoza became an Explosive Ordinance Disposal Technician, Mine Clearance Specialist and top Marksman. “The army teaches you to never give up and to make firm, fast, and correct decisions at the right time, even if it hurts,” he says.
Mendoza says music has changed his life for the better. In Cuba, he explains, when you have a contract in the professional music industry, it is the only work you can do, not that you would likely have time for another job. In addition to performing, musicians in Cuba typically rehearse several times a week and for many hours at a time. “When I started I had to do 19 concerts or shows a month to earn the basic salary, but actually we always surpassed that, sometimes doing up to 42 gigs a month—no time to even take your hat off!” he laughs.
In Cuba, musicianship is a true and valued profession—professional musicians in Cuba earn more than doctors. Provincial and municipal authorities hire and pay musicians. Every province has a “Provincial Centre for Music and Entertainment“ that fosters the protection of Cuba’s musical heritage and encourages the creation, promotion and marketing of the artistic product, representing hundreds of artists. Becoming a professional musician in Cuba is an arduous and endless process. Not only do professionals face regular provincial auditions, but every four years they undergo a rigorous national evaluation. “You need to sing very well, or you go back to shining shoes,” Mendoza jokes. If you lose your designation as a professional musician in Cuba, you can no longer perform in public or even sing on the street. Bands and musicians are rated and assigned different levels and categories. Mendoza fondly recalls receiving top marks in the early days of his musical career from jury member, the late Manuel Licea Lamouth—better known as Puntilla—one of the voices from the Buena Vista Social Club. At his last evaluation before moving to Canada, he was recognized at the highest level and designated a professional musician for life. “That was the first time I ever cried from so much joy,” he admits.
Mendoza says that making a living as a musician in Cuba is a privilege that many would like to have. And since joining his wife in Canada, he has continued to work tirelessly to keep his musical traditions and dreams alive for both himself and the rest of his treasured band.
Mendoza says the future definitely holds more music and more albums. He never stops composing new songs and arrangements for The Count and the Cuban Cocktail. He will also carry on with his other artistic pursuits—poetry, paintings depicting his tropical birthplace, and wood creations of every sort. He would also like to try his hand at writing a book of short stories one day—stories about unknown Cuban musicians, childhood adventures, other past experiences, and more.
Mark Carr-Rollitt – Congas, Guiro
It all started at a concert given by Miriam Makeba, which his parents took him to in Los Angeles during the late 60’s.
Mark has been absorbing music from around the world ever since. From Blues to Progessive Rock, to Medieval and Renaissance, to Jazz and World music, Mark is always listening to something from somewhere. This is not surprising, given his Argentinian, Italian, and English family background, combined with growing up below and above the 49th parallel.
Mark is largely a self-taught musician, spending countless hours figuring out how to play bass, guitar, and various percussion instruments. He has also studied classical and flamenco guitar (accompanying dancers with the latter), and African and Balkan percussion. He was a member of an island band, The Knot, and also played guitar and percussion in Play in the Park’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Mark has also accompanied several island musicians.
Born in Los Angeles and raised in Toronto, Mark moved to PEI in 1997, a year after marrying his fabulous island-girl, Yvette Doucette, on the grounds of the Stratford Festival in Ontario. He lives in Charlottetown with Yvette and his two awesome teenagers, Uma and Mathurin
Claire Byrne – Back-up Vocals
Claire was born and raised in downtown Charlottetown. She was a member of various bands growing up including Honors Band, Colonel Gray Concert and Jazz Bands, and the Colonel Gray R&B Band.
Having grown up in a mixed Dominican-Canadian family, Claire’s interest in Latin music started long before her introduction to the band. With Dominican culture all around her growing up, Claire learned how to dance bachata and merengue at a young age; though it wasn’t until she left PEI to take part in a cultural exchange to Central America that she really embraced her Latin American roots in 2012.
Claire now works part time for Apple in Charlottetown and is in her second year at UPEI. Her favorite days are rehearsal with the band and gig days when she can be on stage singing and getting people dancing.
Being part of the Count and the Cuban Cocktail has brought Claire back to her roots and both her Dominican and Canadian families love it!
Jonathan Holmes – Drums
Jonathan has to be the hardest working, most versatile drummer on PEI. He lays down the rhythms that’ll have you dancing in no time. When he’s not adding the Afro-Cuban beat to the Count and the Cuban Cocktail, he’s rocking it out with other local bands.
Richard Russell – Trombone
Richard has an energetic and ambitious trombone style grounded in classical technique and finished with a modern flair.
Richard’s love of rhythm is evident when he performs, often dancing as he plays. He has performed extensively throughout Atlantic Canada, along with tours to other far-reaching places. His teachers included Herb Schoales and Don Palmer, both of whom offered great insight from their decades of playing and teaching in New York City and beyond.
Married with two young daughters, Richard splits his time between family, music and a formal career as a professional financial advisor.
Marlee Saulnier – Piano
Pianist and saxophonist Marlee Saulnier holds a Bachelor of Music with Honours from Humber College in Toronto, Ontario. Hailing from Stellarton, Nova Scotia, Marlee has competed in music festivals at both the regional and provincial levels.
While living in Toronto, Marlee had the opportunity to study with great musicians such as Pat Labarbera,Mark Promane, Luis Mario Ochoa and Hilario Duran. In 2012, Marlee was able to tour through Mexico with Hilario Duran’s Humber Latin Jazz ensemble playing numerous prestigious venues, such as The Canadian Embassy and The Zinco Jazz Club for the G20 Financial Summit.
Marlee is currently living in Charlottetown, PEI, performing throughout the city, and teaching both piano and saxophone privately.
Tamara Steele – Back-up Vocals
Tamara grew up in Cole Harbour, Nova Scotia in an artistically divided family: her mother and brothers were the artists; she and her father, the musicians.
She spent her childhood singing along to almost everything with her father (and pretending the tv remote was a microphone) and wishing for the day he would let her join his calypso/reggae band cover band.
As she grew older Tamara got to try her hand at a few other musical endeavours including 9 years of piano lessons (thanks Grandmom!), and the wonderful world of band geekdom where she discovered the trombone, spending a number of years playing in marching bands, and with air cadets, before settling into a music major on euphonium (it’s like a baby tuba, Google it) at UPEI.
In her 14 years on the island she has played with a number of different bands, namely the Groove Gurus andFugato. But since she never got the chance to sing the sweet music of the Caribbean in her dad’s band (she was just a kid after all), Tamara is very happy to have found a place on stage with the Count and Cuban Cocktail.
Josh Underhay – Trumpet
Josh is a teacher and musician in Prince Edward Island, Canada. Originally from Fortune PEI, he studied Music Education at UPEI and became a teacher.
He has taught many subjects and grades in Canada, the United Kingdom, China, and the Czech Republic, and now resides in Bonshaw PEI.
He enjoys learning languages and presently speaks English, il parle français, habla español, 会说中文, a také mluví česky, and hopes someday to learn русский and العربية.
Josh presently teaches Grade 7 French Immersion at Stonepark Intermediate in Charlottetown PEI. He keeps himself sane playing blues and especially Latin trumpet with The Count and the Cuban Cocktail
Jon White – Trumpet
Jon grew up mostly in Charlottetown PEI, but has lived in every province in Atlantic Canada, and traveled to several countries visiting and on tour.
Trumpet has been always been a part of his life starting with the sounds of his father’s trumpet heard since birth. His rich, intense tone and melodic improvisations are a fine compliment to the excellent musicians in The Count and the Cuban Cocktail.
He attained a Bachelor of Music with Honors from St.FX where he learned from the slightly quirky, very talentedPaul Tynan. Besides improvising, Jon played in the St. FX Big Band and Latin Band.
Back in PEI, Jon played in the Charlottetown Jazz Ensemble and was first trumpet in the UPEI Wind Symphony. He continued studying trumpet under the brass pedagog Dr. Greg Irvin, and the highly skilled and personableMark Parsons while getting a Bachelor of Music Education from UPEI.
When not attending school, Jon played trumpet professionally for the military. Performing internationally and here at home, he was lead trumpet and soloist playing in such events as the Royal Nova Scotia International Tattoo.
Jon has been a music teacher since 2009, teaching elementary through high school aged students. He is currently teaching music full time in the area of Amherst, NS.
Exhilarating and ‘satisfying’ is how Jon describes playing in The Count and the Cuban Cocktail. Incredible musicians and friends make for great times making music!
Jessica Willis – Baritone Sax
Born and raised in Charlottetown PEI, Jessica is a scientist finishing up her PhD in biomedical sciences at the AVC, but has applied to become a dentist.
Jessica has been playing the baritone saxophone for 14 years, and was initially attracted to the instrument through her love of the legendary band, Tower of Power.
Before joining the band in 2008 she played mainly jazz, but instantly fell in love with salsa fusion and was willing to leave jazz behind.
When not leading the horn section of the Count and the Cuban Cocktail, Jessica loves to kickbox recreationally, and volunteers in various capacities; as an executive member of the UPEI Graduate Association for 3 years, she sits on several university committees, and has been a member of Let’s Talk Science for 4 years which is a National volunteer organization that gets science graduate students out into the community to expose kids of varying ages to science through fun demonstrations and hands on activities.
Amanda Mark – Flute
Amanda enjoys playing flute, sax and bass in classical, jazz, Celtic and Cuban styles.
She has played principal flute and piccolo with the PEISO, Symphony New Brunswick, and the Charlottetown Festival Orchestra. She has also been a member of the Knot, the Charlottetown Jazz ensemble, the Seagals, UPEI Wind Symphony, Nova Sinfonia, the PEI Reserve Band and was music director for Play in the Park outdoor Shakespeare productions. She currently lives in Dartmouth, NS, with her husband Mark Mullally and their two kids, Shannon and Declan, where she plays with the 36 Canadian Brigade Band and teaches band and elementary music in the Halifax School Board.