As a bandleader, I think it's important that we rehearse, develop repertoire and refine our ensemble sound and style. At the same time, I try to emulate the Miles Davis approach: hire the best cats, give them lots of freedom, and embrace the music, wherever it leads.
I'm working on eliminating nonsense phrases from my improvisations -- the musical equivalent of "like," "ya know" and "umm."
There are certain cliches that I tend to reflexively insert when grasping for the next idea. I'm training myself to embrace more negative space during those searching moments -- to simply be still and listen, to just pay attention, rather than compulsively fill the space.
I try to phrase like a singer, so I listen to a lot of vocalists, especially Ella Fitzgerald. And because I favor a melodic, lyrical approach to improvisation, most of the jazz instrumentalists I listen to are also from that tradition -- people like Stan Getz, Miles Davis, Paul Desmond, Chet Baker, Art Farmer and Ben Webster.