The only form of exercise I enjoy is walking. I walk two miles a day, five days a week, around and around the tree-swathed and quiet Manhattan Park five blocks from my apartment. On Sunday afternoons, I take a two-hour walk through the neighborhood, hoisting around a bottle of water, oranges, and a good book in my knapsack.
Obviously, I’m not a serious hoofer—typically, I wear my fedora, a t-shirt, blue jeans, and my six-dollar sneakers. I’m probably helping my heart rate and maybe, just maybe, I’m sweating off pounds and strengthening the muscle tone in my thighs. I wouldn’t know. I can’t be doing too much, as both my neighborhood and the park’s track are pretty much devoid of serious inclines. I suspect that any physical improvement on my part is psychosomatic.
Mostly, though, I walk to relax. I spend most of my workday interacting with others: talking in scheduled or impromptu meetings, calling people I don’t know to ask if they’ll read manuscripts, dashing off emails to people with whom I only converse by email. I’m not a people person or, at least, I’m not as good a people person as I’d like to be.
Walking releases all the tension that comes from trying (and failing) to amuse, from pretending that I know what I’m doing on a more-or-less constant basis. Each footstep stamps out a kink in my back. Each unhurried step is one more moment that I get to smile at birds skittering on the trail or leaves undulating in the breeze.
Maybe that’s why my favorite jazz song is the Earl Harvin Trio’s “A Little Walk to Relax,” from the group’s 1997 Strange Happy. I know it’s not the most influential, innovative, or even technically astounding composition ever. (Hell, it’s not even the most technically astonishing tract on the album.) In fact, I’m pretty sure Dave Palmer’s light touch on the piano keys borrows heavily from Vince Guaraldi. But it’s one I return to, year after year, because it perfectly evokes the feeling of a shady midday walk in the sun. Harvin’s soft drum flourishes remind me of wind swooshing through tall grass, or loose rocks underfoot. Fred Hamilton’s lowly reverberating, insistent bass line holds everything together like regular, carefree strides. Palmer’s fingering sounds like falling leaves settling on the trail. It’s among the most gentle jazz tracks I’ve ever heard, but it meanders and digresses just as a long walk should. It takes its time to look around. Unlike that godawful smooth jazz I hear on the radio, it’s inquisitive, but it’s not driving relentlessly towards a specific destination. “A Little Walk to Relax” is content with a quiet ramble—a perfect little six minutes of time.
Strange Happy is unfortunately long out-of-print but, if you scroll down this page to the second track, you can a 60-second taste of “A Little Walk to Relax.” If you manage to find the album, it’s well worth any amount you could spend on it.