Valtierra began classical studies at the age of ten. After playing in his high school orchestra, he attended the University of California at Santa Cruz, and later was a member of the award-winning Cabrillo College Big Band. Upon graduation from UCSC in 1978, Valtierra led the popular Santa Cruz jazz/funk fusion group, Rush Hour, until moving to Los Angeles where he began playing and touring with groups such as Santana, Aretha Franklin, Tom Jones, Natalie Cole, Tower of Power, Chick Corea, Elton John, and Red Hot Chili Peppers. Valtierra also toured with Glenn Hughes/Deep Purple in 1995 and Charlie Musselwhite in 1997.
Valtierra also writes and produces, and leads his band Valtierra Latin Orchestra (VLO).