When Zachary Breaux jumped into the water on a Miami beach in 1997 to rescue a woman caught in a riptide, he probably wasn’t thinking of himself.
The up-and-coming jazz musician whose third album reached No. 14 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz charts was vacationing with his wife and kids when he made the shared decision to take the plunge.
Sadly, he suffered a fatal heart attack and the 66-year-old woman he was trying to save also died.
But it wasn’t the first time he’d put another life above his own.
Nine years earlier, Breaux had saved the life of a swimmer off the Italian coast. He had honed his swimming skills as a child in his home town of Port Arthur.
February 20 marks the 25and the year of his death, and those who knew him want to perpetuate the memory of his heroism and his musical prowess.
Port Arthur resident Doris Hayes knew Breaux, who died aged 36, and his family and once presided over a Port Arthur Jazz Festival in Breaux’s name. There is also the connection between Hayes and the Breaux through the historic St. Paul United Methodist Church on the West Side.
Hayes called Breaux a hero and compared his selfless act of trying to save someone’s life to that of someone in the military.
“I want people to know he’s a fallen hero. He gave his life. There’s no greater love than this, laying down your life for your friends,” Hayes said, referencing to the Bible verse John 15:13.
She said he didn’t think about what he was giving up when he jumped into the water to save a life.
Zachary Breaux, the son of Verlie and Manuel Breaux, grew up in Port Arthur with six siblings who all played some sort of instrument.
Breaux, who later toured the world and released three albums of his smooth jazz, got his first guitar from an uncle when he was 7, his parents said in a 2008 interview with The Port Arthur News. .
At the age of 11, he switched to electric guitar, working on the jazz styles of George Bensen and John Coltrane. And when he was in a band at Abraham Lincoln High School, he was writing music for the marching band to play during football games.
A look at The Bumblebee, the high school yearbook from 1978, shows a photo of Beaux on lead guitar alongside classmate Darrell Mitchell. Another photo is a group shot of some of the seniors, including Breaux, who was named ‘most talented’.
Artemus Hancock, who spent decades teaching musicians in Port Arthur, once taught at Breaux. He said Breaux was very polite and loyal.
“He loved being around people and treated everyone with manners,” Hancock said.
Breaux was part of a stage group invited to play the Thomas Jefferson High School Junior/Senior Ball.
After high school
Breaux went to North Texas State University to study music composition and was cast in the One O’Clock Band in his freshman year, which is considered a real accomplishment.
He studied with jazz legend Donald Byrd and, on Byrd’s advice, went to New York as a professional musician.
According to the Texas State Historical Association Handbook of Texas, he auditioned and worked with Roy Ayers.
His break came when Ayers fell ill while on tour in London and Breaux replaced him as band manager, the article read.
Breaux released three albums: Groovin’ in 1993, Laidback in 1994 and Uptown Groove in 1997.
Breaux’s legacy can be seen as the gift of music to the world as well as his selfless acts to save others.