One can't really forget about a band that has been together and performing for nearly 15 years. The Forgotten Souls Brass Band are Jazz Fest regulars because they not only keep alive the tradition of brass music in our city, but they release their recordings in a traditional way. I had the chance to talk to percussionist Henri Petras about his long-running band.
WYAT: Tell me a little bit about y'all. Who is Forgotten Souls Brass Band and how long have you been playing music together?
Henri Petras: The Forgotten Souls were formed in 2000. We'll be celebrating our 15th Anniversary next year. We lucky and blessed to essentially have the same group of people that we started with, which is rare in the brass band business. We have Kirk Joseph of the original Dirty Dozen on sousaphone. Kirk is responsible for bringing innovation to the Sousaphone, making it more than just a bass line instrument. We have Charles Joseph of the original Dirty Dozen on trombone, William Smith from the Charles Barbarin memorial brass band on trumpet, Efram Towns of the original Dirty Dozen on trumpet, Roderick Paulin, formerly of the Rebirth Brass Band on saxophone, Revert Andrews, formerly of the Dirty Dozen and Rebirth on trombone, Keith Frazier of the Rebirth on bass drum, Ajay Mallery, formerly of the Rebirth on snare drum, and me, Henri Petras, founder of the Forgotten Souls, on percussion.
WYAT: How long have you been playing Jazz Fest? What is your favorite part?
Petras: We have been playing the Jazz Fest for the last 8 years. What we enjoy about the festival is the people who travel from all over the world to come and hear New Orleans music. They have a great love for the music and listen all year long to their favorite New Orleans music on record. This is their one chance to hear it live. We feel it is our duty to give them not only the sounds of New Orleans, but the feeling of New Orleans. As time goes by and New Orleans loses more and more of its musical treasures, we feel it is important to keep their spirit alive, hence, the tradition of the Forgotten Souls.
WYAT: How does Forgotten Souls Brass Band stand out from all the other brass bands that will take the stage at Jazz Fest?
Petras: Our unique blend of traditional New Orleans traditional jazz, New Orleans Rhythm and Blues, and Mardi Gras Indian music. We have recorded original music in all of these areas. We always include traditional New Orleans jazz as part of our performance, which is not something that all other brass bands at Jazz Fest do. As members of the original Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Charles Barbarin Memorial Brass Band, Junior Olympia Brass Band and Rebirth, members of the band are well steeped in the history of brass band music.
WYAT: Who are your influences?
Petras: Olympia Brass Band, Eureka Brass Band, Hurricane Brass Band, Doc Paulin, Frog Joseph, Earl King, Professor Longhair, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Paul Barbarin and Danny Barker.
WYAT: Your latest release is a vinyl featuring Earl King's "Big Chief." On the other side is Big Chief Monk Boudreaux leading the Forgotten Souls in the Mardi Gras Indian Prayer, "Indian Red." Can you tell me about what this record means for the identity of the band? What made you choose vinyl?
Petras: For our first 45rpm vinyl release, we wanted to put out music at the foundation of Mardi Gras. Earl King's Big Chief is a Mardi Gras classic that has overlap in the R&B and brass band genres. Indian Red is the spiritual prayer of Mardi Gras Indian culture [which is why] we chose red vinyl. Vinyl records are an integral part of recorded music history and the medium is experiencing a renaissance. We wanted to give something to please the collectors and the new vinyl enthusiasts. One of the things it says about the direction of the Forgotten Souls is that we are focused around the core elements and principles of the New Orleans musical landscape. While we forge ahead and create new music, we keep one foot in the past to keep the musical traditions alive.
WYAT: Is there anything else in the works as far as another record? Will you work with vinyl again?
Petras: As part of our 15th Anniversary celebration next year, we will be re-releasing our three studio recordings and two live records. One or more of these will be available on vinyl. We also expect to put out a few new original singles on 45rpm vinyl. We are also working on an extended piece for next year, which is a musical allegory of New Orleans.
WYAT: Where can fans enjoy your performances outside of Jazz Fest? Do you have a favorite place to perform?
Petras: New Orleans has some of the best clubs in the world and we have been fortunate to play at many of them. We feel, however, that brass band music sounds best outdoors. For that reason, we probably enjoy playing at the Jazz Fest, French Quarter Fest and 2nd line parades the most.
WYAT: Who are you most excited to see at this year's Jazz Fest?
Petras: The Jazz and Heritage Stage as well as the Gospel Stage provide a musical experience you can't get anywhere else but outside of New Orleans artists, we look forward to seeing soul singer Charles Bradley back at the festival.
WYAT: Anything else you would like to add about your music or Jazz Fest performance?
Petras: We hope that everyone can come out to the festival and share the day with us. It is a communal experience. To those folks who have supported us, we thank you very much. Without the people who love the music, we would cease to be. To those people who have yet to hear our music, we hope you will give us a chance to warm your heart, mind and soul. And one last thing about the Forgotten Souls: Don't Forget 'Em!