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Musical Notes From The Interstellar Spacial Trane - "The Quickest Way to Nirvana"

The Cosmology of musicians who are magicians of transformational sound, defy the labels, suppositions, and easy definitions that people are comfortable with.

Meditative Reflections

February 22 marks the 54th anniversary of John Coltrane's recording Interstellar Space in 1967 with Rashied Ali. Published posthumously in 1974, the album has Mars, and Venus, on Side 1, with Jupiter, and Saturn, on side 2. A later CD edition included Leo, and Jupiter Variation. Please excuse the ads that preceed these tunes when you click on their links!!

Interstellar Space was recorded just short of 5 months before his passing. 1966-67 was a period of many visits to the recording studio for him. Hearing Coltrane’s energy through his tenor saxophone and bells, with Ali’s freely moving drums, not only are the planets’ meanings evident: he was also moving through interstellar space. These were meditations on the planets as he explored boundaryless realms.

Trane's natal chart below: His birth certificate shows 5 PM, EST.
September 23, 1926, Hamlet, North Carolina. All charts are calculted for Placidus, Tropical zodiac.
John Coltrane's Natal Chart

For many years Trane studied and was inspired by Eastern philosophy, astronomy, and astrology. He was deeply spiritual, with two grandfathers ministers of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion church. In his quest for knowledge and spiritual searching he was open to discovering new ideas, musically, spiritually, and socially.

He contrasted with Sun Ra, of whom the Ear and Eye Griot, Raphael McAden, called "An Afro-futuristic Deity;" Sun Ra transmitted the cosmology of ancient Egypt, thereby fusing the spiritual and the modern in unique pageantry and poetic notions like “Space is the Place,” and “The Immeasurable Equation,” with his famed Arkestra. Trane'sInterstellar Space reflects his internal reflections, powered by his virtuosity and intensity. There wasn’t the Happenings of Sun Ra’s orchestra, theater, and dance. Instead, Trane was more like a Monk, or a Shaman, than he was the hierophant, or high priest Sun Ra was. Both cultural demi-gods were self-defined phenomenoms with neither fitting into the categories of "Astrologer," and in Sun Ra's case, "Egyptologist." They were creative miracles unto themselves.

Coltrane was passionate about astrology and spoke of some of the critical aspects in his planets, such as the opposition between his Mars in Taurus and his Saturn in Scorpio: “…Mars in Taurus, in direct opposition with Saturn, the deadly planet, in Scorpion, the sign of death!” However, he says his Ascendant was Virgo, which it wasn’t, since his birth certificate shows 5 PM, giving him a 2° 59’ Pisces Ascendant, consistent with his musical and spiritual callings. In Lewis Porter’s John Coltrane His Life and Music, he is quoted as being reverent in his regards to the sky. One account has him going to view the sky between sets during a gig in San Francisco. He was familiar with the constellations. He also studied Chinese astrological concepts. While he studied Indian philosophy, it didn’t seem that his astrology was Vedic, more western.

Some of the key points for his natal chart are: Neptune his chart's ruler, is in Leo at 25° 48', square his elevated Saturn in Scorpio at 22° 17'. Saturn is opposed by his Mars in the sign of its detriment, Taurus, at 19° 14'; that combination, while troublesome, describes the energy (Mars in the 3rd House) and the depth of his world view (Saturn in the 9th House). Mars's square to his Jupiter can be seen as an indication of his liver disease. The close conjunction between his Sun and Mercury: while some traditional concepts see that as "combust," in certain situations, where the Sun's rays block out Mercury's performance, I see in it his ability to focus mentally, to imbue his mind with illumination from the Sun. His Sun is in its Fall at 0°06' Libra is in the 7th House; this is imporant because another important musician, trumpeter Lester Bowie, also had his Sun in that house and sign,and likewise, he had liver ailments that were fatal; however, his Ascendant was Aries, with Mars there - but that's another story. Thus, the Sun (the vitality) in that sign and house can have difficulties. Trane's Venus, the ruler of his Sun is also in its Fall in the 7th. This suggests vulnerability, with his Venus influencing his sweet tooth, and other fateful indulgences.

Another individual who shares an astrological detail with Coltrane is Malcolm X. They both have their Moons in Aries, in the 29th degree. Trane's was 29° 15', and Malcolm's was 29° 51'. What is the difference between them? Trane's Moon was in his 2nd House, trine his ruler, Neptune, in the 6th. That points to vulnerability, imagination, and a powerful intuition. In the 2nd House, productivity is emphasized, and Trane's phenomenal output illustrates that! With Malcolm, his Moon was in the 4th House and conjunct his Mercury. Certainly the early moves and upheavals during his childhood are shown here, and the mutual reception between his Moon and Mars in Cancer also speaks of the stormy, crushing circumstances of his childhood, and the problems his mother faced. The Moon in Aries shows an active, assertive mind, independent, at times combative. The latter was more true of Malcolm than of Trane, and I think the answer to that difference can be seen in Trane's 2nd House Moon trine his Neptune, as opposed to Malcolm's stormy Moon/Mars and the conjunction between Moon and Mercury. The latter aspect accounts for Malcolm's oratorical skills and his ability to disseminate ideas clearly, and with a 4th House position, he could reach down to connect with others through identifiable, commonly held concepts, in plain Black English. Trane's Moon/Neptune paints a more spiritual, abstract connection with peole. The Sabian Symbol for the 29th degree of Aries (the 30th degree in Sabian listing) is: A duck pond and its brood. This symbolizes the "cosmic order" of things, and Reliability is the keyword. It describes how following life's organization that can be found in nature. In the negative, an interruption of life's flow.

The altruism that motivated him can be seen in his Uranus in Pisces in the 1st House at 27° 20', in an applying opposition to his Part of Union in the 7th House at 26°32' Virgo. The Part of Union, calculated by adding the Midheaven and the North Node, then subtracting the Sun, is an indication of a person's capacity for relationships, how they resonate and respond to others. His Sun sits at the midpoint between his Mercury and Part of Union, which is an indication of the extent of his abilty to extend beyond his personal and artistic boundaries, and how he combined his individual purpose with extending his reach through communicating and the development of his skills (Mercury).
February 22, 1967, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey
A noon chart for the Interstellar Space Recording
Trane in meditative purple

Let’s look at the astrology for the date of the recording, and how it connected with his birth chart. Without having any records of when the session began, or ended, other than the date, from a chart done for noon, we will have a general idea of the placements of the planets. The Sun conjoins his Ascendant within 24’ on that day, in musical, mystical Pisces; this conjunction can be a harbinger of beginnings. Transiting Mercury is opposing his Venus within 3 degrees, while Pluto is conjoining it as it opposes transiting Mercury. Mars is opposing Trane’s natal Chiron; however, that aspect would seem to be more relevant to his approaching death, which occurred on the following July 17 of that year. Transiting Chiron was conjunct his Moon, which would describe the liver illness and the abdominal pains at the end of his life. Transiting Neptune, his charts’ ruler, was stationary going Retrograde on February 24th, so we can see that time as being pivotal for him, and indeed, he was embarking on an important period musically with this album, according to people following his development. Interstellar Space has been viewed as an important milestone in the new direction that his music was taking, and much of those innovations can be heard in it.

The progressed chart for the recording

Trane’s progressed chart for the recording shows Mercury, a planet associated with documentation and recording at 3° 16’ Sagittarius, tightly squaring his Ascendant and the transiting Sun. In the Directed chart, Pluto at 25° 52’ Leo, is just over 4 minutes of conjoining his natal Neptune in his natal 6th House, a planet associated with music in the house of work – and health. 1966-67 was a busy recording period for him, doing many studio visits up until the spring of 1967. Health issues can be seen, and a Pluto/Neptune conjunction can have debilitating, withering effects. His progressed Lunar Phase is Balsamic: ending the cycle; the “seed” phase; and preparations for the future. His progressed Sun is opposite his progressed Mars, at 1° 28’ orb, slightly wide, but influential, since both planets are in angular houses, the 1st and the 7th. That describes his energy during his last months, a strong sense of purpose, and motivation is clear, as well as conflicts about the direction of his music. His Directed Mars has the Mars/Saturn opposition of his birth, but at that time, it’s midpoint was 0° 48’ Aries, opposite his 0° 06’ Libra Sun, which indicates that his Mars/Saturn opposition, a combination dealing with the organization and the implementation of an act, as well as frustrated or blocked efforts, was critically aspecting his Sun, the planet of one’s purpose and vitality. That natal Mars/Saturn opposition was also being aspected by transiting Neptune, preceded by his Mars the year before, and now Saturn. Neptune, his chart’s ruler, can bring inspiration, but also undefinable feelings of insecurity.

The primary directions chart for the recording

Below is the transit chart for Trane’s passing. Because the Interstellar Space recording occurred at the end phase of his life, there are related cycles in those two events. The time of death at 4 AM was cited by Lewis Porter in his John Coltrane His Life and Music. Intriguingly, in his album Transition, which was recorded in 1965 and released posthumously in 1970, there is a tune Suite: Prayer and Meditation - Day/Peace and After/Prayer and Meditation - Evening/Affirmation/Prayer and Meditation - 4 A.M. Was 4 A.M. for that prayer prescient? The title Transition for this suite represented a musical transition from his earlier music to his later explorations, yet in retrospect, it’s interesting to connect the morning prayer and meditation, to his “transition” to the next plane. This may not be an empty play on words on a coincidence; meditations musically or otherwise, can lead to multiple revelations. This may be the only tune where a specific time of day appears.

The transits for John Coltrane's Ascension

The transits for his passing, his "Ascension," are in a Funnel Pattern, with Saturn as the singleton, and elevated in the 10th House conjunct the 11th House cusp, thus giving the planet a prominent position; Saturn is also in its Fall, adding to its remarkable character. The Ascendant, at 2° 48’ Cancer, is squaring his Sun, by 2° 42’, while transiting Neptune at 21° 39’ Scorpio is conjunct his Saturn, by 38’. He died from a diseased liver, and possible abdominal infections (no autopsy was done, so a complete picture of his cause of death isn't known). At first glance, his Jupiter, which rules the liver, retrograde at 17° 59’ in the 12th House. In his natal chart it is the focal planet of a Yod (“Finger of Destiny”) between his Pluto/Venus sextile, rules his Midheaven, and is the co-ruler of his Pisces Ascendant. Transiting Venus is a little under 3° from opposition to his Ascendant. Transiting Mars at 28° 46’ Libra, is in an applying opposition to his natal Moon at 29° 15’ Aries, would agitate gastro-intestinal ailments. Having a Pisces Ascendant, and his Venus in Virgo are also associated with abdominal pain and illness.

Saturn is not always associated with death unless its placement in the chart is connected with ill health or other issues. His Saturn rules his natal 11th House, and his South Node, the latter can have an association with the past, and what we may want to escape from. By having his Mars and Saturn, the two “malefics,” in opposition, some kinds of challenges are possible. Fascinatingly, when he went to the Huntington Hospital on July 16, the day before his ascension, the Moon was in Scorpio, and had been conjoining his chart ruler, transiting Neptune, with both planets (the Moon is termed a “planet”) conjunct his natal Saturn in Scorpio, which he associated with death. Beginning on November 24, 1966, and on June 10, 1967, Neptune had conjoined his natal Saturn as it also squared its natal position. The latter date coincided with his refusal to Max Gordon, owner of the Village Vanguard, for a performance there. The reason given was that he was practicing new material that he wasn’t ready to present to the public. However, it was at that time word spread that he wasn’t well. Max Roach recommended a Hindu healer, Majumdar, but he went for only one visit. At that time, he was in so much pain he couldn’t eat, and at times barely walk, even canceling a visit to the doctor because he couldn’t go out the door.

Further, transiting Saturn at 12° 24’ Aries was also tightly conjunct Coltrane’s Directed Ascendant at 13° 25’ Aries, as it precisely squared transiting Mercury at 12° 41’ Cancer. - While that Mercury/Saturn square conjoined and squared his natal Nodes at 12° 58’ Cancer/Capricorn. But Saturn doesn’t always bring “Death,” it can indicate a crystalized stage, a final, finite development. It is a “reaper.” Unfortunately, because of Trane’s past drug and alcohol addiction, his vulnerability, brought this kind of Saturnian manifestation. He was one of the nicest, kindest, unassuming individuals, a creative genius saintly to his very depths.
What a tremendous loss not only because he was one of the greatest musicians of any era, but because of his innate beauty and gentleness.

I was interested Trane’s ideas and studies on astrology, and how they compared to Sun Ra’s poetic cosmology. I wasn’t aware of how closely he knew his chart, and most interestingly, how he intuited his ascension through his astrological musings, music, and meditations.

A question can be asked: Did he actually "read" as an astrologer or any reader might, about his upcoming death when he saw Saturn as the planet of "Death," in the sign of "Death?" At first I didn't think so, largely because Saturn is not the planet of "Death." Yet as I studied the period of his last few months, particularly on the day and time of his passing, Saturn was significantly placed, with its aspects to Neptune, his ruler, and the transiting Moon for the day and evening before he died, through to the time of his passing. That he had a tune in the album Transition, that has 4 A.M. in its title doesn't have the import to his passing like his read on Saturn in Scorpio, but taken together, along with his spirituality, I find the connection as a possible key that speaks of the the power and relatedness of his music, meditation, and yes, magic.

There aren't many comments about astrology from him, and of those existing the Saturn comments was the most decisive, coinciding with the timing and to some degree the circumstances of his "Ascension." Again, he was not an "astrologer," but he understood certain features of his horoscope that later played a role in his destiny.

Trane Smiling

It has been said that photos of Trane smiling are rare.
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