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Gimme 5! ECMA Edition

Posted by Jon Bruhm on April 8, 2015 in News
First-year dentistry student Jessica Willis (second from left) performs with her band The Count and the Cuban Cocktail
First-year dentistry student Jessica Willis (second from left) performs with her band The Count and the Cuban Cocktail

Our students have a plethora of skills both inside and outside of the classroom, including athletes, culinary artists, tech gurus and, of course, musicians! In this edition of Gimme 5, we sat down with first-year dentistry student Jessica Willis, baritone saxophonist with PEI-based The Count and The Cuban Cocktail - nominated for the East Coast Music Awards' 2015 World Recording of the Year.

1. When one pictures east coast culture, salsa fusion is not necessarily the first kind of music that comes to mind. What kind of a response have audiences across the region had to your band?

The response we’ve had in Atlantic Canada has been amazing! Generally when many people hear about us or see us setting up at a bar or festival, they are hesitant at first because they are unfamiliar with the style of music. After a few songs, though, you can always tell that people are pleasantly surprised. The music is just so fun and catchy. It’s very satisfying to know that you’ve changed someone’s mind and showed them a good time when they didn’t expect to enjoy themselves.

2. Have the fine motor skills you developed over the past decade and a half of playing the baritone sax given you an advantage as you transition into dentistry?

You know, I thought they would help but honestly, learning these skills is like learning a new instrument: playing the saxophone doesn’t really give you an advantage when learning guitar, so dentistry seems to be the same.Some people have more of a knack for it but I feel like I have the same strengths and weaknesses with a drill in my hand as anyone else in the class at this point.

3. How has being based in Halifax impacted your involvement in the band?

Being in Halifax has definitely minimized my ability to play with the band. School is pretty busy so between studying for exams and the horrible travelling weather we’ve had lately, it’s been impossible to get home for shows. Rehearsals are even more impossible to attend because we have them on Monday nights. The band has been very accommodating, though. They know that once I’m home for the summer (which is by far when we play the most shows) they’ll get my full involvement, and they’re happy for me that I am over here pursuing my dream. Playing in the band is one of the few things I really miss about home.

4. What did it feel like to learn that the band's latest record, Influence, was nominated for an East Coast Music Award?

It made me very proud of the band members I work with because coordinating and combining 10 people’s ideas, schedules, and differences in opinions is challenging, and that’s on top of learning and mastering the music. Secondly, the nomination made me so happy for Eduardo Mendoza (he’s the “count” of “The Count and the Cuban Cocktail”). He is cuban and writes all the songs, plays guitar, and is the lead singer. The rest of us play the music and add our spins on things and have strong input, but Eduardo is the real visionary behind the band and the genre.

5. The Count and the Cuban Cocktail will be headlining the Music PEI Stage during the upcoming ECMA festival on Saturday, April 11. What are the chances you'll get to jam with the band in St. John's?

I'm trying to rearrange a few things at school before I definitively say I'm going, but I do have a flight booked…