The Gruskin Group, the multi-disciplinary New Jersey-based design firm whose founder, architect Ken Gruskin, is a lake resident, first sponsored “Jazz at the Lake” in 2009.
At the previous year’s festival, organizer and co-founder Paul Pines informed the audience that he and Lake George Arts Project director John Strong were uncertain if the jazz festival would survive without the financial support of John and Marilyn Breyo, who announced earlier that year that they would no longer support the event with annual donations.
“Is there an angel in the crowd?” Pines appealed to the audience from the stage in Shepard Park. “If there’s anyone out there who can help us, please come forward,” he said.
Sitting on a blanket on the slope above the bandshell, Ken and Susan Gruskin looked at one another and said, “We can do that.”
Since then, the Gruskins and the Gruskin Group have not only supported the annual festival financially but provided the distinctive posters, banners, advertisements and backdrops that have helped brand the festival.
“We’re all visual creatures, and the graphic materials help give the jazz festival its identity,” said Ken Gruskin. “The backdrops you see behind the musicians literally set the stage for the performance.”
The festival’s strong visual component, however much it may vary from year, also distinguishes Jazz at the Lake from the innumerable other musical events staged every summer in Shepard Park, said Gruskin.
This year, to commemorate the 15-year-long collaboration of the Lake George Arts Project and the Gruskin Group in the production of Jazz at the Lake, the Arts Project’s Courthouse Gallery has mounted a new exhibition, “Jazz at the Lake: A Graphic Design Retrospective.”
The products generated by the Gruskin firm’s integrated approach to graphic design “visually enhances the conceptual essence of the musical palette assembled by the festival’s curators,” said June Waters, the Arts Project’s Director of Operations.
According to Waters, the exhibition is not only an exposition of the many ways in which graphic designers create visual equivalents of ideas and concepts, but a tribute to Pines, the poet, novelist, jazz club owner and therapist who curated the festival from 1984 until his death in 2018.
According to Ken Gruskin, the exhibition could not help but be a tribute to Pines.
“The Lake George jazz weekend was driven by Paul Pines’ vision of what it could be,” said Gruskin, who recalled that Pines met his offer to support the festival with graphics – and not just a check – with enthusiasm.
“Working with Paul was such a great experience. His ideas pushed us,” said Gruskin. “We agreed that the festival’s visual identity should not remain static, but change every year to suit the new theme. That enabled our creative team to try different techniques, to experiment, to improve our chops.”
Gruskin noted that Pines insisted upon one constant: every visual iteration of the brand should relate, somehow, to the lake and the water, to the setting that makes Jazz at the Lake unique among jazz festivals.
That criterion produced Gruskin’s personal favorite: a stand-up bass re-imagined as a classic wood power boat producing a generous wake across the azure waters of Lake George, which the team produced in 2019.
Gruskin said the intellectual and artistic collaboration that began with Paul Pines and John Strong continues with Daniel Kelly and Tanya Tobias-Tomas, the jazz festival’s curator and Arts Project director, respectively.
This year’s jazz festival takes place Friday, September 15 through Sunday, September 17.