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July 18, 2001
OSWEGO -- SUNY Oswego Adjunct Professor Rick Balestra saw some of his high-school students in the 315 All-Stars earn first place in the prestigious Essentially Ellington Festival, May 17 to 19, at the Lincoln Center in New York City.
Balestra said he served as a faculty adviser, "father figure" and coach of the rhythm section for the 315 All-Stars, which consists of 18 students from around the area code. Dr. Harold Potter, a teacher at Manlius-Pebble Hill High School, directs the program and is also assisted by Tom Sococcio.
In all, 169 bands entered the national competition, and 15 were invited to perform at the Lincoln Center, Balestra said.
Part of the prize included the opportunity for the 315 All-Stars to perform with renowned trumpeter Wynton Marsalis. "It's a thrill those kids will never forget," Balestra said
Balestra has been an adjunct at SUNY Oswego for 10 years, teaching courses in classical and jazz guitar. He also leads the college's Jazz Guitar Ensemble.
The Syracuse resident adds that he serves as an ambassador for SUNY Oswego with Central New York student musicians who take lessons in his Syracuse studio. "Hopefully, some of those students might come to our school," Balestra said.
Balestra -- who also instructs at Colgate University and Manlius-Pebble Hill -- plans to increase his involvement with the 315 All-Stars, as organizers are looking to develop the 315 Jazz Arts Co-operative, a more formalized program.
At SUNY Oswego, Balestra also leads the Jazz Guitar Ensemble. With the four-to-five-person group, he said the biggest challenge is a lack of repertoire written for a jazz guitar combo. "It's getting better, but there is still a huge void in the amount of material," Balestra said. "Some of the charts are being written by and arranged by the students."
The Jazz Guitar Ensemble will participate in Artswego's Jazz Guitar Festival, slated at SUNY Oswego on Nov. 3. The festival is a daylong event featuring classes for musicians and an appearance by renowned jazz guitarist John Abercrombie, whom Balestra described as "amazing." Abercrombie will headline an evening concert as well as teach a master class.
"It's going to be a mixed bag of very cool things," Balestra said of the Jazz Guitar Festival, which began at his suggestion. "I can't stop talking about it. I'm obviously excited."
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