MICHAEL DAVIS PHOTO
"(Teaching music) has enabled me to be more of a presence at home because, essentially, I’m self-employed, so I’m in charge of my schedule."
Joe Davoli admits it. He actually does have the best of two worlds: He’s a working musician, and he’s a family man.
Anyone who follows the local music scene has probably heard Davoli’s fiddle, augmenting the traditional sounds of Delaney Brothers Bluegrass, anchoring a partnership with guitarist Harvey Nusbaum or lending Celtic styling to the Irish rock of Ceili Rain. The winner of two Syracuse New Times Syracuse Area Music Awards (Sammys), Davoli also teaches violin and mandolin at his home studio in Syracuse, and cherishes his family time with wife Darbie and their three children: Nicholas, 19, and twins Joseph III and Olivia, 10.
Davoli, 38, remembers first being drawn to music when he was 3 or 4. He attended a Fourth of July concert and hummed the string arrangements all the way home. His parents promptly enrolled him in violin lessons, which he continued until he was 12.
“At that point, it wasn’t fiddle—it was all violin, technically,” says Davoli, a graduate of Westhill High School. “In high school, it was just classical music, but I would learn to play by ear, picking up rock songs here and there.”
Dedication was the norm around the Davoli household when Joe was growing up. He and his four siblings were encouraged to take up instruments, and play organized sports. “My dad believed that downtime was bad time,” he recalls. “But my mom made music fun for us.”
While attending college at DePaul University in Chicago, he flourished in the local music community. After a friend gave him a CD by French violinist Stephane Grappelli, he began incorporating jazz elements into his sound. In 1993, looking for a challenge after his return from Chicago, Davoli placed an ad in the Syracuse New Times: “Classically trained fiddler wants to play the blues!” it read.
For a while, Davoli juggled gigs—which for 10 years included a seat with the Syracuse Symphony Pops Orchestra—with teaching violin and the odd construction job. In 1997, he headed back to school for more formal training. A summer session at the Berklee College of Music turned into a year stay. “There’s nothing like being in Boston with 3,000 like-minded musicians,” Davoli says. “You get to play a lot.”
But Davoli was a married dad by this point, and family kept him rooted in his hometown. He eventually opened his own teaching studio on Onondaga Hill.
Davoli, who has written an instructional text for violin and mandolin, describes his teaching style as more improvisational than the training he had as a youngster. “The fact is, you can play violin to any style of music,” Davoli says. “Young people can get bored, so I try to find an angle that will keep them interested.”
Davoli, aka “Diamond” Joe, teaches three days a week—about 20 students at any time, depending on his Ceili Rain tour schedule. The teaching studio has been good for family life. “It has enabled me to be more of a presence at home because, essentially, I’m self-employed, so I’m in charge of my schedule.”
In fact, when he is not touring, he is able to participate in some of the day-to-day school duties that many dads cannot. “During the week, my workday doesn’t really start until 3ish because my students are either school kids or working adults,” he says. “I’m usually able to pick the kids up from school if they need to come home sick and just last week I went on one of their field trips.”
Meanwhile, he’s one of the most in-demand session fiddlers in Central New York. His name appears on CD credits for artists such as Jamie Notarthomas, Donna Colton and Los Blancos. His own recordings include a solo disc, GamePlan, and a duet disc with Nusbaum.
And there are gigs aplenty. In addition to Ceili Rain, Davoli handles fiddle duties in the local Dave Matthews tribute band One Sweet World and in the Irish group The Flyin’ Column. “I like keeping a variety of different projects going,” Davoli says. “I think it’s because I grew up appreciating different kinds of music.”
Davoli says his wife of more than a dozen years is happy to leave the fiddling to him. But in Darbie, currently a stay-at-home-mom, he has a solid support player. “She knows good music and respects what I do,” Davoli says. “The biggest challenge in balancing family life with play is the scheduling. My wife is a rock and really takes the lead in balancing the family schedule.”
Davoli says it’s their collective commitment that has enabled him to keep a steady calendar of gigs. “I didn’t necessarily perform (any) less when my kids were younger,” he says. “In consideration for my wife, I did try and be as organized as possible so she knew plenty in advance if I was going to be gone more than a couple days. Also, I had to make sure that the time away was not only musically rewarding but financially as well to justify the time away.”
In the name of family unity, Davoli has also embraced modern technology. “When out of town with Ceili Rain, cell phones keep me plugged in,” he says. “My wife is very independent but I always tell my kids to call me whenever; if I don’t pick up, it’s because I’m on stage. In an attempt to be ‘hip’ I text a lot with my older son.”
So far, Davoli’s children are not as musical as he is, but all have emerging interests. Son Nicholas, a student at Le Moyne College, plays the drums. Twins Olivia and Joseph III are just starting with piano and trombone, respectively.
“They were a little impressed when my first CD came out, though,” Davoli recalls, chuckling. “They thought that was pretty cool.”
Upcoming Davoli Sightings:
April 18, 8 p.m., with Delaney Brothers Bluegrass, Oswego Music Hall, 41 Lake St., Oswego.
Aug. 7, 7 p.m., with guitarist Harvey Nusbaum, First Friday music series, Onativia United Methodist Church, 6257 Dodge Road, LaFayette.