He was my introduction to Jazz in 1953. I still have copies of some of his arrangements which I bought in Dallas, Texas then. Later I listened to him at the Black Hawk club in San Francisco. He and Shearing were on the top of my list.
He was one of my idols as well ... he was a true musical innovator in everything he did, whether it was performing, writing, or just spreading top-draw jazz around the world.
Brubeck was also one of the first white jazz players to play black clubs, and his classic quartet had the stellar bassist Eugene Wright in it (he cancelled concerts and TV appearances who refused to allow Wright, a black musician, to perform or show him on-camera).
I was lucky enough to see him in concert just a few years ago ... he came out, spoke at the mic, then walked VERY slowly and carefully to his piano bench, where he sat down and proceeded to play his butt off like a 20 yr-old. He may have been in his late 80's by then, but he was still as vibrant musically as all his many recordings I had ever heard.
If you want a real Brubeckian treat, take a few minutes and give one of his most beautiful compositions a listen ...
About a week after Brubeck's death, I happened to hear "Take Five" played on a local oldies station, without introduction or comment. This station plays only Rock and Roll from the fifties, sixties and seventies. It would not normally be on their playlists. I regarded it as a testiment to the extent of his influence.