A few weeks ago I got a flier that said Fred Durst was hosting a live jazz night in Hollywood. "Was this a joke?" I first thought. Fred doing trad-jazz versions of nu-metal songs? I had to know.
Fred Durst was a big deal when Limp Bizkit's cover of "Faith" dropped when I was in eighth grade, making him one of the most memorable characters of the late-'90s music scene. Ever since, Durst has fascinated me, especially as I learned of his other endeavors, like film directing. When I received the flier, the ironic part of me said, "Let's go! This will be ridiculous." But a quieter voice in me was also thinking, "What if this is actually good?"
So I went.
When the club opened, we entered a tiny side room in a small group, where we were treated to a surprise magic trick before the door to the club opened. There was Fred Durst, in a suit, with his signature red cap on backward.
"Hi. I'm Fred," he said. "Thanks for coming out tonight." And shook my hand.
For the next several hours, I was treated to a really strong couple sets of jazz by young local players. Durst would go up on the mic every once in a while to make some announcements and generally act as MC. But there was no crooning on his part. He was the ringmaster, not the main attraction.
Several weeks (and a few more jazz-fueled nights) later, I had a conversation with Durst about how he started his night, Fred'z With a Z, at the magic-themed Black Rabbit Rose, why he's so into jazz, and his many other lives and hustles outside of Limp Bizkit.
So what inspired this whole thing?
I’m a big fan of jazz. I have been for a long time. It’s not necessarily something that people who know me from Limp Bizkit know about me personally. It’s one of the things I’m really fond of, so I travel around to different spots to hear different players. Some word-of-mouth stuff. Sometimes some older cats.
I’m just really impressed with the new generations ... they’ve had an emotional reaction and connection to jazz at such young ages. It just blows my mind. It’s fascinating. So after traveling around for a while to different spots, I thought, “I’d like to have my own night.” Maybe if I put together the right collective of young cats and [they] wanna do something kind of sexy and cool. And then the whole La La Land thing ... I thought the timing was unbelievable and serendipitous.
I already had the players I wanted to work with, so I started having them out to my house and getting familiar with them. Once I found the core trio, I started poking around to see how I could do a jazz night.
So luckily and ironically, the Houston brothers heard I really liked jazz and they had wanted to do a jazz night, so they reached out. I said absolutely, if we had the right spot. So they had me check out Black Rabbit Rose. Just the vibe of the spot felt really cool and good ... [so] we said, “Let’s just wing it and try it.”
Is it a passion or is it like a serious business for you?
It’s a passion thing. I’m not making one penny. I’m there because I wanna be there. And I love being maybe able to turn some people on to jazz, to the extent of maybe breaking that stereotype of what they might think it is. Some people think jazz is just hearing Frank Sinatra at the Grove or Arnie Morton’s.
What jazz artists have you gravitated toward over the years, well-known or not?
I like Elvin Jones, Art Blakey, clearly Buddy Rich, Roy Haynes. I love drums, a lot. I’m a rhythm type of guy. I love Charles Mingus and, clearly, Miles Davis. I really love Chet Baker. I think his ability on the trumpet is unbelievable. I really love him. Paul Chambers is an awesome bass player. I love brass, and I love Charlie Parker. I think I like the same stuff that most people that like jazz probably like. Stan Getz. I like the standards, man.
I like how you can know a standard, and each artist flips it in their own way. And the collective is speaking a language, and they’re learning that language as they’re playing. It’s just fascinating. These guys can play “Cherokee,” and every little trio is gonna do it completely differently. Or they’re gonna hear how someone else did it and jump off from that point. It gets kind of complicated from there. Are you a jazz guy?
I’m not a musician or anything. But I grew up in New Orleans. So jazz reminds me of bread pudding. Everyone’s got their own take on it, but you’ll never have the same bread pudding twice, kind of like how you’ll never hear the same jazz tune played the same way twice.
Yeah! To me, that makes every experience unique. I love that element of it.
Having my name attached to this night is one thing that was a little awkward. I said, we’ve got to call it “Fred'z With a Z”. And they said, “OK, F-R-E-D-apostrophe-S.” And I said, “No, it’s 'Fred'z With a Z.'”
I felt like a target, you know. Like someone’s gonna see this and think, “Oh, Fred Durst’s doing a jazz night? What’s this, lounge versions of ‘Nookie’?” I just don’t know how people perceive it. I’ve had people come up to me and ask, “When are you singing? Are you gonna play one of your songs?” And I laugh and say, “I don’t think so, not tonight.”
I appreciate people who have come with an open mind to see what it’s about. You saw [that] it’s real. We’re trying to do something different. But there are other great jazz places in L.A. to go to. You can go to the Baked Potato or bluewhale. There’s spots to go. I just thought the Houston brothers brought a sexy element to it. I was interested to see what the crowd would be.
It’s an interesting group of people, from Jerry Cantrell to Emile Hirsch. I want this to be a portal for musicians and people who are curious, people who are open to something different. I don’t know what my expectations were besides that. It’s not a money play. I have to pay my players. You know, jazz musicians rarely make any money around here. It’s very interesting to find that out. They’re doing it for the passion and very, very, very small amounts of money.
Is it the same core every week or are there rotations?
We rotated the lead, which in this instance is the saxophone player. I’d love to have our sax player Jacob Scesney in the house band every week. He’s so young and so good, man. I had him play at Bill Paxton’s memorial with me.
My rhythm section I started with this 21-year-old guy named Tyler Hammond on the drums. I started following him like a fanatic. I found out he was a skateboarder, so we bonded through jazz and skateboarding. He comes over to my house and skates my half-pipe all the time. He’s so talented that he just blew my mind. I knew I had my drummer. I built from the drummer. My bass player Ian Solomon, started seeing him out. Saw him at the Six in Calabasas on jazz night. He’s a great dude. He’s from Chicago and is really grounded and knows his shit.
So I’m a rhythm section guy. Now, what are we doin’ with guitar? What are we doin’ for the lead? Zane Carney’s been jumping up there the last few weeks. He plays with John Mayer. He’s an incredible guitar player. So it’s rotating. Each Thursday, you’re gonna find another new surprise or gag or a little touch of magic in the intermission, having some guest vocalists here or there. Just playin’ it by ear, brother. Going with the feel. I’m not trying to create a formula.
I was surprised when I was led into the space and the guy who ushered us in did a magic trick with a rose. And then there was magic during the intermission. Are you a magic guy as well?
I’m a hopeful, wishful thinker. So magic works for me. It’s fascinating. I love that I was able to involve Liberty Larsen, who’s a fourth-generation magician with the connection to the Magic Castle. She also loves jazz. It’s just a beautiful, serendipitous collision. It just felt good for the night. It gave it that flair that’s just a little different. It catches you off-guard.
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Magic is very cool. I’m not a fanatic but I do enjoy it. I’ve been to the Magic Castle many times. Magic brings another dimension into this, you know, “How?!” “Whoa!” It’s fun to believe in magic.
And are you still developing film projects? Or what’s the main hustle you’re working on besides jazz right now?
I still perform and manage Limp Bizkit. We’re very selective of where we play. I think I’m gonna be releasing some new material. But my film directing is about to be in a very wonderful place. I’ve been working on it for a long time, making sure that I’m in the “no” business. I say “no” a lot. I get the opportunities my way but they might not be the most substantial or credible. All the reality shows hit me up. I guess they think, “Clearly the guy from Limp Bizkit would be a great candidate for a reality show.” So I have to say “no” to them all the time.
But my main focus is being creative and enjoying life, man. I’ve learned to embrace the now instead of worrying too much about tomorrow and dwelling on yesterday.
Fred'z With a Z is every Thursday at Black Rabbit Rose in Hollywood.