This was George Gershwin's last orchestral work. It was written for the shipboard dog-walking scene in the film Shall We Dance. That film was released in May 1937, the orchestra led by Nathaniel Shilkret.
According to witnesses, Gershwin quickly improvised the tune on the movie set. He then scored it himself to make sure it would not receive the bloated treatment by a hired Hollywood orchestrator.
It was not published until 1960, when it was issued as a work for solo piano and given the new title, Promenade, by Ira Gershwin. It was thought at that time that the original score had not survived, and the piano piece was written from memory by Hal Borne who, in 1936, had been rehearsal pianist for Shall We Dance (it is Borne's playing that is heard on the soundtrack). Then, in 1978, Gershwin's original arrangement was found in an RKO warehouse. In 1981 it was played in concert for the first time as originally written—by Michael Tilson Thomas and the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra. The original version is these days called Walking the Dog.
It is a sixty-eight-bar composition in ABC form. It begins with an eight-bar vamp consisting of the harmonic progression that will lie under the A section. As Gershwin did so often during this period, he is playing here with the elementary I-vi-ii-V7 pattern. I is given an added major seventh, vi a minor seventh, ii a ninth, and V7 a sixth and a diminished ninth. This pattern is then used to support a whimsical and somewhat jazzy tune. The B section is a lyrical dotted-note theme, one that travels farther and father from the home key until it gets to D-flat, when a neat one-bar modulation takes us back to C.
The original version can be headrd on the Shall We Dance soundtrack and in a 1985 recording by Michael Tilson Thomas and the L.A. Philharmonic. The piano version has been recorded by Richard Rodney Bennett, William Bolcom, and Leonard Pennario, among others. Non-Gershwin arrangements include one by Nelson Riddle that was part of the deluxe edition of Ella Fitzgerald Sings the George and Ira Gershwin Songbook, recorded in 1959, as well as one done at about the same time by Andre Kostelanetz.