The first time I became aware of technical brilliance as an artistic force was in high school, when some of the band's trumpet players started raving about "MAY-nard." (The first name was sufficient, although his initials were an acceptable subsititute as well as a desirable double entendre--M.F., get it?) The object of this gape-mouthed adulation was Ferguson's command of the trumpet's upper register, which by then had become his trademark: a roaring sirocco of hot tone that left even other high-note specialists somewhat dazed. That was back in 1968, when Ferguson's amazing prowess had already been documented on record for nearly 20 years; more amazing is that, at the age of 62 and thanks to yoga, meditation, and genetics, he's still playing pretty much like that. Since the early 60s, Ferguson's led his own "little big bands," with trumpet sections filled by disciples to his philosophy of screech. There's no small element of schlock in the Ferguson style; at times, as on his versions of such hits as "MacArthur Park" and the Rocky theme, those stratospheric notes reach the level of sheer kitsch. But his bands are always well-rehearsed, with tight, crowd-pleasing arrangements, and populated by terrific young players, and I imagine the current group is no exception. Wednesday through next Sunday, November 25, Joe Segal's Jazz Showcase, Blackstone Hotel, 636 S. Michigan; 427-4300.