beside the people with whom i've been lucky enough to play, here's my list (or at least part of a list).
when i started to think about this list, i noticed that most of these people were in the improviser/composer/visionary zone:
wayne shorter (miles and blue note eras)
john mclaughlin (earlier)
to be honest, having favorites is sort of funny - - there are so many people from whom i learn when listening to their improvs, even the ones i dislike may teach me just as much as the the people named above. i guess the deciding factor that all of the people above share is that i keep going back to them and that their work produced a sea change in my own musical voyage - - of course these are only the people who do improv and represent a "current" list, it could change tmorrow . . .
addtionally, there three people who i've only heard about being amazing improvisers, but whose music has meant a lot to me, that i wish i could have heard improvising: