For me, it was Harry James. My Dad had this old LP that had the Brave Bulls on it and that was my very favorite. He had such a sweet, honey-like tone. Also, had the one of him playing Carnival of Venice.. Then, I moved on to Al Hirt, then Doc Severinsen. My favorite Doc album was Doc Severinsen's Closet with these somewhat cheesy Don Sebesky arrangements. Of course some of them were pretty good, and Doc's playing was so tight, beautiful and profound throughout. He hits a High Double-A on this end of this Beetle's Arrangement that is just stunning.
Then, one day my Dad picked me up a Maynard CD at a department store. Maynards' "The Big F" Album. I never heard of Maynard and it completely blew me away. I was hooked ever since. A year later he took me to a Maynard COncert in around 1975 at Loretto Heights College Theatre in Denver. I have never heard anything like it. Maynard was just surreal. He had this way of building you up to a most unlikely climax...then just when you though what he was about to do was impossible - he exceeded your expectations.
It took me a while to warm to other players afer I heard about Maynard. , but the older I got I started appreciating Miles, Freddie, Wynton..
Funny how it all started with Harry James playing The Brave Bulls.