Spring training begins next week, and the advent of the national pastime is the perfect time to consider the career of Art Blakey: baseball has its farm system, which develops young prospects into major-leaguers, and jazz has Blakey. Over the last 35 years, Blakey's bands have served to mold and train promising young musicians on their way to the "big leagues" (leadership of their own groups); the short list of the musicians he's ushered into stardom includes Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Chuck Mangione, Johnny Griffin, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Bobby Timmons, and of course the Marsalis brothers. Even in such company, Blakey's current unit--which boasts the Morgan-styled trumpeter Philip Harper, the self-assured trombonist Robin Eubanks, and baby-faced piano wizard Benny Green--can hold its own. Naturally, a lot of the joy in hearing Blakey comes from the chance to hear tomorrow's major artists, but the master drummer himself is not to be undervalued. It is Blakey, after all, who has built one of the brightest repertoires in jazz, who has maintained unimpeachable musical standards--and who, at the age of 70, can still direct a horn solo with a mix of the primal and the sophisticated that have rarely been matched. Tonight, 8 PM, Mandel Hall, University of Chicago, 5706 S. University; 702-7300.