Deborah “La Cocodrila” De La Torre is a Music Theory affiliate faculty at MSU Denver at DIME Denver and has an award-winning music career as a pianist, music composer/arranger, instructor, classical performer, art festival founder, film producer and recording artist/producer.
She received her Bachelor’s degree in Music from the University of Miami, Florida, and a Master’s in Business Administration from Regis University in Denver.
She is passionate about Caribbean, Latin American and Spanish/Iberian musicology, and performs under the name of “La Cocodrila“ (the lady crocodile) on account of her fierce playing style. Her 2018 album, ”¡Coño! (But With A Swing)” continues to enjoy critical acclaim around the world and recorded at Rocky Mountain Recorders in Denver.
We caught up with Deborah De La Torre to find out more about her time in the music industry and teaching. Dive into her interview below!
Photo Credit: Vincent De La Torre
DIME: Tell us about your background; how did you get started working in the music industry? What inspired you to work in music?
A: I’ve been teaching piano since I was a young teenager, had many church gigs, worked in a music store, played lots of private and corporate events, made my first record in my early twenties, worked in cultural arts organizations, later worked at a K-12 school and at a private college. I’ve served on lots of committees and nonprofit cultural arts boards. I founded and operated a large-scale cultural arts festival in Michigan. I have always thought of myself as a musician and cultural arts person.
D: What do you do when you’re not working at DIME?
A: I teach private students (classical and jazz piano, and music composition) and do some judging and guest lecturing. I write and publish music, have rehearsals, work on shows and concerts, and prepare for my next recording projects. I’m also a film producer, and have been managing my film company, which focuses on Latinx issues, for the past eight years.
D: What has been the best part of your experience teaching at DIME?
A: I really believe in the vision of bringing the commercial music industry directly into our local community. I love teaching and am passionate to help students who are eager to learn.
D: What has been your proudest moment as a DIME Instructor?
A: I’ve been super proud of all the students who have worked so hard to learn and grow, to get to the next level and beyond. It’s been thrilling to hear them say things like, “I didn’t know how to do this
before, but now I do!” or “I can’t believe I finally learned how to do this, because I’ve wanted to learn this for such a long time!” and “That song was really hard to learn, but I killed it!”
D: Who are your biggest musical inspirations?
A: There are so many important stories of musicians – some famous and some not – who have had to overcome great challenges and many obstacles to get where they are. In particular I’m inspired by the journeys and great comeback stories of amazing women musicians throughout history who did not receive the recognition they deserved. For example, most people have heard of the famous pianist Bebo Valdés and his even more famous son Chucho Valdés. But what about Chucho’s sister Mayra Caridad Valdés, who was an incredible jazz vocalist? She had a brilliant career in the rest of the world, but here in the US, few people knew about her until she passed away last year.
D: What are you listening to right now? Do you have any recommendations we should check out?
A: I love Latina feminist punk rockers like the up-and-coming Victoria Ruiz/Downtown Boys, and also JessyBulbo and Alice Bag. Latina HipHop artist Ana Tijoux is amazing, and I got to see Latinx metal band Calle 13 at the Summit last year here in Denver. For urban/roots style I like Palo!, P18 and Siete Rayo. In traditional jazz I love bassist Esperanza Spalding, singer Daymé Arocena, and pianist Aruán Ortiz. For indie-/folk-pop I like “Ojos Del Sol”(title track) by Y La Bamba, and my number one all-time favorite álbum is “A Lo Cubano” by Cuban HipHop artists Orishas.