One of the things that I believe developed my own playing the most was listening analytically to performers I admired and learning by imitation. Encouraging students to listen to saxophone and clarinet players is a method I use in my teaching too.
I admire the interactions of the Brecker brothers; their conversational, competitive playfulness. I adore Gerald Albright with his bright, raw open tone. I have studied the funky, edgy solos of the Phil Collins Big Band and Brian Setzer Orchestra, and the range of techniques utilised by Bob Mintzer, James Carter and, more recently Leo P.
I am learning the nuances that reveal the personality behind the sound: Cannonball used middle D with the left-hand side palm key; Coltrane played D with everything down and the open palm key. These influences have helped me shape my own style: I aspire to a combination of a melodic, bright sound with a funky, modern feel.
I encourage my students to think about the sound they want to produce and then listen widely and regularly to the masters of their instrument perform. My advice is to try imitating their sound and experiment! Even better - see live performances. Most sharply I recall the late Michael Brecker in concert. His electrifying 'Delta City Blues' demonstrated technical mastery and melodic beauty. It epitomises jazz technique: altissimo; overtones; false-fingerings; interval leaps; multi-phonics; precise intonation.
Visits to New Orleans and New York opened my eyes - I saw the legend Sonny Rollins, mesmerised by his solo construction and control of the lower register. I found other experts of articulation held new depths for me: Chris Potter and Stan Getz. I sought out new influences in clubs - a highlight was to be mere inches from the Mingus Big Band at the Jazz Standard.
These musical experiences have helped shape and develop the player I am today.