A little while ago, I explained the jazz tradition of quoting other songs during solos. One of the things I mentioned in that piece is that we do this to impress and amuse our fellow musicians, since we assume the audience doesn’t know enough about jazz to get the joke. Well, this comedian seems to agree:

And he has a point. A lot of jazz is pretty complicated. And to completely appreciate everything that is happening on stage or in a recording requires a lot of historical context. But there are some things in jazz that are actually pretty simple. And one of those things is the 2-5-1 chord progression.

Let’s start with the C major scale. CDEFGABC. If you number those C=1, D=2, and G=5. So for the key of C major, 2-5-1 is DGC. For any scale, the 2-5-1 means the second note, the fifth note, and then the first note (also called…

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