Playing It Cool for Katrina

Woody Allen played the clarinet, actor Terrence Howard read Mark Twain, and Toni Morrison rocked out to a Lou Reed tune.

What sounds like that weird dream you've been having lately was actually the New Yorker's "Parting the Waters" benefit, held in conjunction with the New Yorker Festival over the weekend.

The potpourri of performers gathered at Town Hall in Manhattan on Saturday night to raise funds for Hurricane Katrina victims. The evening also featured appearances by Elvis Costello, Kevin Kline, Richard Ford, Willem Dafoe, Calvin Trillin and David Byrne.

New Orleans groups Buckwheat Zydeco and Queen Zydeco Band provided a lively soundtrack for the evening, with legendary pianist Allen Toussaint summing up the night by saying: "If you'd like to know how to get from the Big Apple to the Big Easy, take Highway Love, and you'll get there."

Neil Young's Surgical Strike

Neil Young says his new album, recorded only days before the singer underwent surgery for a brain aneurysm, is steeped in personal reflection.

Young, 59, wrote the first track for "Prairie Wind," which hits stores tomorrow, on his way to a Nashville recording studio, just after receiving his diagnosis last March.

"Then I went back up to New York on Monday for a pre-surgery thing, flew back to Nashville, wrote and recorded [Tracks] 4, 5, 6, 7, 8 and most of 9 and 10," Young told Time magazine. "And then I got admitted, and they put me under."

Talk about working under a tight deadline.

"I don't feel like I'm slowing down, but these things happen," he said. "Yeah, there's a lot of reflection. It affected all the songs."

Honoring O'Neill

The town where Eugene O'Neill spent his twilight years will dedicate a $100,000 memorial honoring the legendary playwright.

The Danville, Calif., memorial features a large plaque emblazoned with bronze letters spelling out a passage from O'Neill's celebrated work "Long Day's Journey Into Night."

The playwright's remote ranch, known as Tao House, is a National Park Service historical site. O'Neill lived and wrote some of his most famous works there from 1937 to 1944, including "Journey" and "The Iceman Cometh." He died in 1953.

Noted . . .

* Mezzo-soprano Marilyn Horne will receive a lifetime achievement award today from London-based Gramophone magazine. The 71-year-old Pennsylvania native will be feted at Manhattan's Steinway Hall.

* Bill Gates is donating $40 million to the Lakeside School in north Seattle, a private school the Microsoft mogul once attended. Perhaps Bill was not to be outdone by Microsoft co-founder and fellow Lakeside alum Paul Allen, who has donated more than $20 million to the school in the past two decades.

. . . and Quoted

"Which sex, and which city?"

-- Mikhail Baryshnikov's response when he was invited to play a role on the retired HBO series "Sex and the City." Baryshnikov, who had never heard of the show before the offer came his way, spoke at the New Yorker Festival on Saturday.

-- Compiled by Chris Richards

from staff and wire reports

The New Yorker benefit for victims of Hurricane Katrina featured, clockwise from above, Lenny Kravitz and Buckwheat Zydeco, Woody Allen, Toni Morrison and Lou Reed.