In Francis Coppola's film "The Cotton Club," there's a scene in which actor Richard Gere, playing a jazz cornetist, uncorks a Louis Armstrong solo note for note. Was that really Gere we heard or was it his cornet coach, Warren Vache'?

Vache', who performs at Cates through June 14, is quick to credit his former student. "That's him on the sound track, all right," he says of Gere. "He had actually played the cornet in high school ... He had a very good ear and he quickly assimilated the styles."

Widely regarded as one of the finest brass players in jazz, Vache' more recently was involved in another film, the modest but critically acclaimed "The Gig." Besides writing the score and assembling a band for the sound track, Vache' acted alongside Wayne Rogers and Cleavon Little. Calling it "a total immersion in film," Vache' loved the assignment.

But the jazz world hasn't lost Vache' to Hollywood. Not yet, at least. At 37, he still spends most of his time playing club dates within commuting distance of his home in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife and two children. Occasionally he embarks on a tour with the George Wein All Stars, a well-seasoned ensemble that includes former Ellingtonians Harold Ashby and Norris Turney. He also records frequently for the Concord Jazz label.

Vache' was introduced to jazz by his father, a weekend bassist with "a record collection the size of Montana." Since there was already a bass lying around the house, he thought he'd give it a try, but his father advised against it.

"In true bass playerese, he said, 'No, play the trumpet. You'll get more work, and besides, nobody tells you what key you're in when you play the bass' -- meaning that the bassist is left out of the picture but that he's really the workhorse in the band. And it's true."

With the encouragement of trumpeter Pee Wee Erwin, who ran a music store in the neighborhood, Vache' continued his studies through college. A friend, a teacher and an inspiration, Erwin had a profound influence on Vache'. "I'd hang out at his store. I'd live there," he recalls fondly. "He had total command of his instrument ... a very underestimated musician and everybody's best friend."

Years later, while in his mid-twenties, Vache' formed another strong, if less personal, bond with jazz legend Benny Goodman. Joining Goodman's band in 1975, he soon discovered that the clarinetist could be exacting, even trying, but there were always compensations.

"Personally, it was up and down. Musically, it was never anything but an amazing experience," he says. "He was always a musician foremost. It was a pleasure to stand alongside him and watch him do what he did. I've never seen his like.

"The sextet things were always inspirational," he adds. "He could play the same tune night after night and do different things with it. He was such a hot player that somewhere along the chorus he would hit the switch and you could literally feel the temperature in the room rise. And it would get so intense you'd wonder how he could maintain it."

It has never much concerned Vache' that many people associate the cornet -- a sort of snub-nosed trumpet with a warmer tone -- with a bygone jazz era. His repertoire continues to embrace a variety of styles. Diversity appeals to him far more than nostalgia or orthodoxy.

"Everybody likes to have a little system whereby everything is easily understood and immediately recognizable," he explains. "Unfortunately, the world doesn't progress in 10-year periods ... but I stopped worrying about that years ago. I play what I like and that doesn't necessarily include classical interpretations of what jazz music is."

As Vache' sees it, his chosen instrument isn't neglected as much as it's misunderstood. "It's come to mean moldy fig or traditional/dixieland or Herbert L. Clark band music, when in fact the instrument is capable of all sorts of shades, the only limitation, of course, being the player. If I blindfolded half the people I know and played the trumpet and cornet back to back, no one could tell the difference."

Vache' chose the cornet for purely practical reasons. It feels more comfortable, he says, and it more readily produces the kind of mellow tone he favors. "The kind of equipment that {trumpeters} Fats Navarro and Clifford {Brown} and even Chet Baker used to get -- that really round sound -- you've got to work really hard on. I just find that I can do it with a lot less effort on the cornet."

But don't call him lazy, Vache' says with a laugh. Resourceful is more like it. "That's why the man invented the lever."