ELLSWORTH — It’s been a busy winter for Ryan Blotnick, a jazz musician and composer based in Southwest Harbor.
There was the Sundance Film Festival in late January, which Blotnick attended alongside his brother Robin, one of the producers of the film “Knock Down the House,” a documentary following four women running for Congress in 2018 (including rising political star Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y.). Ryan wrote the score for the film, which won the festival Audience Award and was acquired by Netflix.
Then it was back to Maine, briefly, and onto Vals, Switzerland, where Blotnick spent two weeks playing at an upscale resort: one week with Boston bass player Max Ridley and another on his own.
“It’s an excuse to play four sets a night of solo guitar,” says Blotnick. “It’s nice to be able to just focus on music.”
Blotnick, who was raised in Kennebunkport, has been focusing on music for a long time.
“I started playing when I was 8. I just wanted to play fingerpicking guitar like my dad.” He quickly outgrew the fingerpicking, and as he puts it, was “funneled into the jazz thing as the next step of complexity.”
In high school, Blotnick attended the prestigious Maine Jazz Camp and, at 16, started the jazz program at William Paterson University in New Jersey, where he studied under acclaimed musicians Gene Bertoncini and Paul Meyers. Then there was a stint with the Rustic Overtones and a move to Copenhagen, where Blotnick became one of the first American musicians (along with his Mount Desert Island friend Ned Ferm) to graduate from the Master’s program at the city’s Rhythmic Music Conservatory.
After Denmark, Blotnick moved to New York to try his hand at making music in the city. He spent a decade there, playing with a slew of talented musicians.
Playing in New York, says Blotnick, was “at times very rewarding. But in the end it was living in poverty and competing with hundreds of insanely talented people.” The jazz guitarist began “transitioning” back to Maine and to Mount Desert Island, where his parents have a home. He found a less crowded and more laid-back scene than New York but a wealth of talent.
“There are some really brilliant musicians in the state of Maine, holed up, and it’s kind of fun to try and track them down,” he says. He recorded a fourth album, “Kush,” named for a club in New York where he met collaborator Michael Blake while Blotnick was on his way to orientation at William Paterson.
Blotnick says moving to Maine also has allowed him to slow down and develop his sound. His is often a cobbled-together living. He teaches, bartends and rents his house to support himself, but that has allowed him space to focus on a wide variety of projects. Lately, says Blotnick, he has been playing with several groups in a “collaborative” style, without a lead musician.
“If you have a collaborative group where everyone is writing the music it’s more democratic,” he notes. “You’re trying to write to people’s strengths.”
While scoring “Knock Down the House,” Blotnick also was able to experiment with different ways of writing music. He composed the entire score on the computer, using a program to demo the sounds that would later be played by live musicians.
“I’m not a big fan of being in front of the computer. But if you’re not Beethoven and can’t conceptualize a 45-minute symphony in your head” it’s a good alternative, says Blotnick. “I could scale up the way I write jazz and I could do things on the computer and put it in front of a group of musicians and it would sound pretty good.”
“The days of putting four people in a room” to compose a score are over,” says Blotnick. “Absolutely nothing on the radio is made that way.”
But he’s ready to take the music as it comes.
“When something works,” he says, “you may as well roll with it.”
Blotnick’s music is available on iTunes, Songlines and Bandcamp. More information can also be found at ryanblotnick.com. To catch Blotnick or with Mark Tipton & Les Sorciers Perdus, visit ryanblotnick.com and marktiptonmusic.com. He is scheduled to play solo guitar on March 13 at Sips in Southwest Harbor and with Mark Tipton & Les Sorciers Perdus on Thursday, June 6, at the Criterion Theatre in Bar Harbor.