Creative Class: Michael Shimmin

tieMichael Shimmin is one of the most in-demand percussionists in the state of Michigan. Well versed in the styles of jazz, world, folk, rock, and classical music, he continually proves to be a valuable asset to any musical project. Graduating from Western Michigan University in 2006 with a Bachelor’s Degree in Music Performance, Michael studied under the instruction of Judy Moonert, Billy Hart, and Keith Hall. In 2007 he was awarded the Irving S. Gilmore Emerging Artist Grant from the Kalamazoo Arts Council, which allowed him to begin studies with world-renowned percussionist, Jamey Haddad. In this ongoing relationship, Michael continues to study drum set, hand percussion, and rhythm.

While still in music school, Michael joined his first major professional musical project: Millish, an Ann Arbor-based Irish-fusion group. Millish introduced Michael to performing at major music festivals across the country, studio recording, and multitude of international performances (including tours in Germany, Ireland, and Scotland).

At the same time, Michael was playing percussion in Kruziki Transatlantica Quintet, a group formed at Western Michigan University. Founded by saxophonist Aaron Kruziki, the ensemble played a mix of Piazzolla-inspired tangos, middle-eastern music, and American jazz. The group was awarded with multiple DownBeat Magazine Student Music Awards, including “Best Jazz Group,” and “Best Classical Chamber Ensemble”, and was invited to perform at the International Association for Jazz Education Conference in New York City in 2006, and at a concert in Tunis, Tunisia in 2008.

Around 2005, Michael met Michigan musicians Seth Bernard and May Erlewine, when Millish was invited to play at Bernard’s Earthwork Harvest Gathering music festival. Michael was blown away by the duo’s live performance. In 2006, he was asked by Bernard to play with him in Kalamazoo, MI, which soon led to Michael being invited to play drums on Erlewine’s upcoming album (“Mother Moon”), and almost all of Seth and May’s releases since (all of which appear on Earthwork Music–a Michigan based musical collective that not only acts as a record label, but promotes raising community and self-awareness through the power of music). On the Earthwork label alone, Michael has performed on almost 20 albums with over 10 groups, and has earned a reputation as “the guy who plays with everybody” in the Michigan music scene, and still is touring regularly with Seth and May.

From 2008-2012, Michael was a member of the Kalamazoo based band The Red Sea Pedestrians. Mixing original folk music with Eastern-European styles and rock n roll, the music of this group allowed Michael to utilize his own style of combining drum set and hand percussion. He can be heard on the releases “Adrift”, and “The Electromagnetic Escape”.

In 2008, Michael was recruited by Ann Arbor based harmonica legend Peter Madcat Ruth to play in the acoustic blues quartet Madcat, Kane, & Maxwell Street. This group released their first CD, “Live at the Creole Gallery” in 2009 and has been performing regularly since. Michael also currently plays with Madcat in a louder, electric setting called Madcat Midnight Blues Journey.

What inspires you to create?

It has always been kind of a mystery to me. Why do I get this feeling that I must play music? It’s just something that I’ve had since I was a young kid. Nowadays I go through periods of feeling more inspired, as well as periods of being not-so-inspired. But I still have to do it (make music). It’s almost like an essential bodily function at this point, like eating or drinking or going to the bathroom.

I do love performing. I feel like it’s kind of an ancient responsibility that some people were given. To make music for others to listen to. Whether it makes them happy, sad, or makes them want to dance, each person gets something different out of it. I’m happy to provide, because in that way I get my kicks too.

Can you describe your greatest creative achievement?

I’d like to think I haven’t achieved my greatest yet! But I am very proud of all of the recordings I’ve done with so many of my talented friends. I’m proud of my band, the olllam, because we seem to have inspired a lot of people in the Irish music scene (and beyond), and it’s led to me being able to travel to different parts of the world to play. Also, playing with Aretha Franklin was pretty amazing.

What advice would you give to the next generation of creative people?

Don’t be afraid to stay on the path that allows you to make a living doing what you want. There will be very hard times but the people who push through those usually end up successful, and hopefully happy. I always got offended when older people told me, “You better have something to fall back on if this music thing doesn’t work.” That idea always made me cringe.

What one word would you use to describe yourself or the work you do?


Catch up with Mike on his website: 



is a series of profiles of creative people throughout the world that I have either shared the stage with or have observed their talents from a far. The questions are my own and their answers are unaltered.

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