Firstly let me apologise if this post descends into indecipherable drivel. But that’s my writing style, and it’s got me where I am today. Aside from that, I just read a disturbing article informing me that my late-night lifestyle is making me sick and stupid; my ability to form coherent sentences is diminishing, and my days of comprehending simple arithmetic may be numbered. I don’t even understand that last bit!
I spend most of my nights in jazz clubs, and have done so since I was in my late teens. Back in Australia, this wasn’t so bad, as the action would generally wind up by midnight or 1AM (we all had to be up early to feed the wombats). Then I came to New York. On my first trip here in 1996, Smalls Jazz Club was open until 8AM, and often later. I’d get my arse handed to me at the jam session, go to a diner to berate myself over breakfast, and be in bed by noon. These days, I’m older and wiser, and am tucked up by 6AM.
Conventional wisdom says that we eventually adapt to a change in sleep patterns; that if we keep our hours regular, and turn in at the same time every day, the sleep will be just as beneficial. I even dimly recall reading articles that claimed our most creative work is done after midnight. But recent studies refute all this, and moreover, suggest that staying up all night and sleeping all day, while undeniably awesome, has some pretty serious downsides, namely type-two diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and a “significantly shorter lifespan”. Additionally, these studies show that, “the brains of workers who’d done 10 years of night shifts had aged by an extra 6 1/2 years- they couldn’t remember as much or think so quickly.” And at 4AM, apparently my ability to think is the same as if I was drunk. Of course, I wouldn’t know what that’s like, but it sounds serious and fun.
Anyway, I thought I’d prove all these so-called experts wrong by doing a bit of investigative googling and coming up with some brainy achievers who share my habits. Unfortunately, many people known as “night owls” (Freud, Churchill, Tolstoy, Mozart, Nabokov, Obama, etc) are nodding off at a relatively respectable 1AM. For real day-sleepers, here’s what I came up with: pianist and hypochondriac fusspot Glenn Gould; gloomy ponderers Franz Kafka and Marcel Proust; literary lunatic Hunter S Thompson (check out his insane daily routine), and maniacal dingbats Josef Stalin and Adolf Hitler. The only glimmer of hope is Rolling Stones madman Keith Richards, and it’s looking more and more like he’s not actually human. I’m not in healthy, well-adjusted company.
The most frustrating part of these reports is that they offer no solution other than doing what every minuscule fibre of my body is desperately pleading with me to do. I want to hear that I can reverse the negative effects of my boogie-loving lifestyle by, I don’t know, eating carrots? Finishing the occasional cryptic crossword? Curbing my consumption of the blood of comely young virgins? But no. It seems I’ll have to resign myself to incremental idiocy and an early demise.
Are you an all-nighter? Someone you know? Want to cheer me up with tales of healthy, alert, intelligent, productive, long-living nocturnalists? Use the comments box below, but not too many big words please. Anyway, got to go- it’s nearly midnight and lunch isn’t going to make itself.
Righto, more soon. Cheers, Nick
4 thoughts on “Afternoon Has Broken, Also Brain: The Price of the Jazz Life”
love and adore this essay of yours and the topic! brilliantly written!
I am a jazz lover, and it’s an enormous love. Not a jazz musician. But for the past 5.5 years I have been staying up all night & then sleeping until noon or 1:00pm (or even a bit later occasionally).
And the good news is that I am healthy! And you can be healthy too. Just eat really healthy food and do a little exercising in your apt with hand dumbbells & on the floor, if walking all over NYC isn’t enough.
Because you have such strong avid interest in performing jazz, composing music, writing brilliant essays and who knows what else, you will be healthy because having strong interests is the KEY to life, and the key to living a wonderful life.
You might try going to bed on some nights (when you’re not working) at 4am or 5am, instead of always 6am.
Smalls Jazz Club was open until 8:00am in 1996?!! wow, freakin’ interesting to hear that.
People like you and I who stay up all night have to buck the inaccurate commonly held derisive notions that it just isn’t right to do so….and sleeping until noon or 1pm or 2pm is lazy, deviant, and unacceptable behavior. Forget all that and do what makes you happy.
Your band seems to have taken off lately, as in garnering more support. (and I hope I’ve contributed with positive twitter posts) So that’s proof that your creativity and productivity are not on the wane.
You should try for 7 or 8 hours of sleep rather than just 6 hours as you seem to be doing. And is there a night (or 2) where you could get an even longer sleep? Also be sure to eat lots of protein, vegetables, grains, & fruit.
P.S. absolutely loved when you walked way out into the audience, leaving the stage behind, and kept playing sax while you walked around the audience – freakin’ hysterical – I was laughing & it was great – because I had suggested you try walking around the stage while playing sax like Jerry Weldon does so effectively 🙂 (you did this not the most recent Smalls performance but the performance before that)
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Thanks for the good advice, Susan! And yeah, Smalls was wild in the old days- jam sessions started at 4, BYO, full of smoke… And no cameras- probably a good thing!
Don’t believe the hype – people who get up early in the morning just stare at a pastel-colored pictures of kittens & puppies ,and watch the crappy women’s tv shows. They just try to bamboozle us latenighters into thinking they’re getting more done. NOT TRUE!
Have you every heard of someone deliriously working through the morning to finish the final chapter of their novel? No? There’s a reason.
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I agree! Thanks for reading, Dorian 🙂