Davis was born in Electra, Texas. He received his Bachelor of Music in 1952 from University of North Texas College of Music, and an Artist's Diploma, as a Fulbright Scholar, from the Santa Cecilia Academy in Rome. He won second prize in the 1956 and 1957 Ferruccio Busoni International Piano Competition and first prize in the 1958 St. Cecilia Piano Competition. In April 1960, Davis won the Franz Liszt Competition at Town Hall, New York City. Davis studied under Silvio Scionti, Carlo Zecchi and Vladimir Horowitz.
Performance and recording career
He debuted at New York City's Town Hall in 1959. Davis made his international debut at the Festival dei Due Mondi in Spoleto. In 1960, he signed with CBS Records and began a 60 concert cross-country tour. He toured the world with several major orchestras including the New York Philharmonic, the Cleveland Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Spanish National Orchestra. He performed under such world-famous conductors as Leonard Bernstein, Eugene Ormandy and Lorin Maazel. He received the Handel Medallion from New York City for contributions to the city's cultural life. He recorded for London Records in the 1970s. From 1965, Davis was a professor of music at the University of Miami in Coral Gables, Florida. According to Grove Music Online: "His Queen Elizabeth Hall début recital in London in 1968 caused a sensation, and has become a collector's item on record. Further recordings, largely of 19th-century showpieces, have confirmed his exceptional exuberance and technical brilliance, most notably a Gottschalk recital of true virtuoso flair." The American classical pianist Richard Kastle was his student for more than three years.
- "Davis Plays Czerny, Schumann, Liszt", Audiofon, CD 72004
- "The Wind Demon and other 19th century piano music", New World, 80257-2
- "Piano Music of Grieg – Ivan Davis", Audiofon, CD 72022
- "Liszt – Piano Concertos – Ivan Davis", London Weekend Classics, 421-629-2
- "Souvenir de Porto Rico – Piano Music of Gottschalk – Ivan Davis", London Weekend Classics, 436-108-2
- "Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue – Cleveland Orchestra – Maazel", London Jubilee, 417-716-2
- "Digital George – Gershwin Classics", Musical Heritage Society, 513380w
- "Chopin – Favourite Piano Works – Ivan Davis", Castile Communications, CCD-106
- "Tchaikovsky – Piano Concerto No. 1 – Davis", Castile Communications, CCD-103
- "Liszt's Greatest Hits – Hungarian Fantasy with Ormandy, Philadelphia Orchestra, CBS-MLK-39450
- Great Galloping Gottschalk: America's First Superstar, London Records/Decca (1975) CS 6943
- "Music of George Antheil", Music Masters Classics (BMG), 67094-2 
- On August 6, 1960, in New Canaan, Connecticut, Davis married Betty Lou Saxton, who studied at the Juilliard School and Columbia University.
- The Art of the Piano. Its Performers, Literature, and Recordings, third edition, by David Dubal, Pompton Plains, New Jersey: Amadeus Press, 2004
- Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, sixth edition, revised by Nicolas Slonimsky (1894–1995), London: Collier Macmillan Publishers
- Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Seventh edition, revised by Nicolas Slonimsky (1894–1995), New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., Schirmer Books, 1984
- Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Eighth edition, revised by Nicolas Slonimsky (1894–1995), New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1992
- Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians, Ninth edition, edited by Laura Kuhn, New York: Schirmer Books, 2001
- Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Classical Musicians, by Nicolas Slonimsky (1894–1995), New York: Schirmer Books, 1997
- International Who's Who in Music and Musicians' Directory, Ninth edition, edited by Adrian Gaster (1919–1989). Cambridge, England: International Who's Who in Music, 1980
- International Who's Who in Music and Musicians' Directory. 12th edition, 1990–1991, Cambridge, England: International Who's Who in Music, 1990. Taylor and Francis International Publication Services, Bristol, Pennsylvania
- The New Grove Dictionary of American Music, Four volumes, edited by Hugh Wiley Hitchcock (1923–2007) and Stanley Sadie (1930–2005) London: Macmillan Press, 1986
- The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, 20 volumes, edited by Stanley Sadie (1930–2005), London: Macmillan Publishers, 1980
- The Penguin Dictionary of Musical Performers. A biographical guide to significant interpreters of classical music – singers, solo instrumentalists, conductors, orchestras and string quartets – ranging from the seventeenth century to the present day, by Arthur David Jacobs (1922–1996) London: Viking, 1990
- Ivan Davis: Pianist and teacher (DMA Dissertation), by Jeffrey Scott Hodgson, University of Miami, 2001
- Cohen, Howard. "Ivan Davis, longtime UM music professor, world-renowned pianist, dies at 86". Miami Herald. Retrieved 13 March 2018.
- "NTSU Graduate Will Play at Alma Mater", The Dallas Morning News, February 15, 1971
- "Dallasite Winner of Piano Prize", The Dallas Morning News, September 7, 1956
- Ivan Davis Wins Prize; Texan, 28, Gets Top Award in Liszt Sesquicentennial Event, The New York Times, April 26, 1960
- Plaskin, Glenn (1983) Biography of Vladimir Horowitz, p. 305: "He had won the first prize in the Busoni and Cecilia competitions and in 1960 he won the Franz Liszt Competition, and received a surprise phone call from Horowitz the day after the announcement." "...with 60 concerts planned for his first cross-country tour and a CBS record contract, Davis intrigued Horowitz."
- Plaskin, Glen (1983) Biography of Vladimir Horowitz p. 10: "...interviews with all six of Horowitz's students: Gary Graffman, Byron Janis, Ivan Davis..."
- Lewis, Uncle Dave. "Biography: Ivan Davis". AMG. Retrieved 16 May 2010.
- "Ivan Davis". Music.miami.edu. 1996-04-21. Archived from the original on June 12, 2010. Retrieved 2010-08-06.
- Bryce Morrison. "Ivan Davis". In Deane L. Root. Grove Music Online. Oxford Music Online. Oxford University Press. (subscription required)
- "Spike-Haired Pianist Richard Kastle Shows How You Can't Judge an Album by His Jacket" by Steve Appleford, Los Angeles Times, March 24, 1991
- "Performer – Ivan Davis at CD Universe". Cduniverse.com. 2010-06-08. Retrieved 2010-08-06.
- "Betty Saxton and Pianist are Wed in Connecticut", The Plain Dealer, August 28, 1960