Zachary Breaux, jazz guitarist, was born in Port Arthur, Texas, on June 26, 1960. Son of Manuel Breaux, Sr., and the youngest of seven children, Breaux is best-known as an accomplished jazz guitarist who performed with the popular Roy Ayers’s Ubiquity band before suffering a tragic death. Throughout his career, Breaux played with such prominent artists as Stanley Turrentine, Roy Ayers, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Jack McDuff, Donald Byrd, and many others. Breaux toured throughout the United States, Africa, Asia, and Europe and performed a mix of soul, jazz, and R&B.
Zachary Breaux grew up in Port Arthur and began playing music about the age of nine, when his Uncle Walter bought him an electric guitar. He also played the clarinet. After school Breaux played guitar in local garage bands. He was also a musician at St. Paul United Methodist Church. Breaux’s band directors (Oscar McNeil and Artemus Hancock) at Lincoln High School encouraged him to pursue a musical career and enroll at North Texas State University (now University of North Texas), where he studied musical composition. While at North Texas State he played with the One O’Clock Band and studied with jazz legend Donald Byrd. On Byrd’s advice, Breaux relocated to New York City in 1984 to work as a professional musician. It was there that Breaux auditioned for Roy Ayers’s Ubiquity. Breaux spent the next years performing, recording, and touring with Roy Ayers.
Breaux’s career got a boost in 1992 when Ayers became ill during a tour in London and Breaux filled in for him as band director. He did so well that Ayers allowed Breaux to record the live performances for release in the United Kingdom. This became Breaux’s first CD, Groovin’ (1993), released on NYC Records. His second solo effort, Laidback, was released in 1994. Breaux signed with Zebra Records in 1996, and his third album Uptown Groove (1997) reached Number 14 on the Billboard contemporary jazz chart.
On February 20, 1997, Zachary Breaux suffered a fatal heart attack on the beach in Miami, Florida. He was attempting to save the life of an elderly woman, Eugenie Poleyeff, who had been caught in a powerful riptide. Ironically, in 1988 Breaux had saved the life of a swimmer off the coast of Italy. However, in this second attempt in 1997, he was unsuccessful, and both Breaux and Eugenie Poleyeff died. Zachary Breaux is survived by his wife Frederica, his three young daughters Alexis, Mia, and Nina (one a dancer, another a musician), his parents, and six brothers and sisters. After his death, Zachary Breaux was officially recognized by the Texas State House of Representatives for his musical contributions. A festival in his memory has been held in his hometown of Port Arthur, Texas, each June since 2008. Breaux is honored in Port Arthur’s Museum of the Gulf Coast’s Music Hall of Fame.
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Robin Gerber, “You Be the Judge: The Case of the Raging Riptide,” Reader’s Digest (July 2006). Doris T. Hays, Interview by William H. Wright, October. 29, 2009. Barry Kernfeld, ed., The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (New York: Grove's Dictionaries, 2002). Colin Larkin, ed., Encyclopedia of Popular Music, 4th ed. (10 vols., New York: Oxford University Press, 2006). New York Times, March 2, 1997. Port Arthur News, June 10, 2009. Zachary Breaux Jazz Festival (http://zacharybreauxjazzfestival.com), accessed July 27, 2010.
The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.
William H. Wright,
“Breaux, Zachary Charles,”
Handbook of Texas Online,
accessed May 23, 2022,
Published by the Texas State Historical Association.
Original Publication Date:
May 28, 2013
Most Recent Revision Date:
October 18, 2015
This entry belongs to the following Handbook Special Projects: