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Davis traveled extensively around Europe after World War II and moved to Paris in 1962. He held a Ph.D in Ethnomusicology from Wesleyan University and was a professor of music and director of jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh from 1969, an academic program that he helped initiate. He was also founder and director of the University of Pittsburgh Annual Jazz Seminar and Concert, the first academic jazz event of its kind in the United States. He also helped to found the university's William Robinson Recording Studio as well as establish the International Academy of Jazz Hall of Fame located in the school's William Pitt Union and the University of Pittsburgh-Sonny Rollins International Jazz Archives. Davis retired as director of the Jazz Studies Program at Pitt in 2013. Davis also served as the editor of the International Jazz Archives Journal.