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Lake George Mirror


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World-Class, But Still Free: How is the Lake George Jazz Weekend Event Possible?

By Anthony F. Hall

Answering the telephone in his tiny office in the old court house, Lake George Arts Project executive director John Strong fields a query from a clearly incredulous caller.

"Yes, Gary Burton will play Saturday night. No, there's no charge. Yes, it's free. Check out our website," Strong tells him, shaking his head in disbelief as he hangs up.

Even after 29 years, the Lake George Jazz Weekend is still a puzzle to some jazz fans.

A free festival that brings some of the country's top jazz artists to a village park beside a lake - how is that possible?

For the past few years, it's been possible thanks to the support of Pilot Knob residents Ken and Susan Gruskin.

At the festival's 25th anniversary show, shortly after Strong and the jazz festival's co-ordinator, Paul Pines, learned that longtime supporters John and Marilyn Breyo, could no longer subsidize the event with annual donations, Paul Pines issued an appeal to the audience.

"Is there an angel in the crowd?" Pines asked. "If there's anyone out there who can help us, please come forward," he said.

Shortly thereafter, Ken and Susan Gruskin approached Pines and offered to donate $15,000 to help finance the next year's jazz festival.

"We had read about the situation, but we assumed that someone would have come forward sooner," said Gruskin, an architect who heads Gruskin Group™, a multi-disiciplinary design firm based in New Jersey. "We thought, 'it's a twenty-five-year-old event, it's inconceivable that the community would let it die. Someone will pick up the torch.'"

For Ken Gruskin, that void turned out to be an opportunity for him, his family, and his business to contribute something to Lake George.

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