Yitzhak-Meir (Isaac) Gitlis was born in Haifa, Palestine Mandate to Jewish parents, who emigrated in 1921 from Kamianets- Podilskyi, Russia, now Ukraine.
Gitlis acquired his first violin when he was five years old and started lessons under M.me Velikovsky together with his friend Zvi Zeitlin. He then studied privately with Mira Ben-Ami, a pupil of Joseph Szigeti.
When he was eight, she arranged for him to play for Bronisław Huberman, which prompted a fundraising campaign to allow him to study in France.
In 1933 he arrived with his mother in Paris and started to take lessons with Marcel Chailley, husband of the pianist Céliny Chailley-Richez. Being very close to their family, he was introduced to George Enescu and Jacques Thibaud.
In that period he decided to change his birth name (Isaac) to Ivry. At 11, Gitlis (Jitlis) entered the Conservatoire de Paris in the class of Jules Boucherit, and graduated in 1935.
In 1938–1940, his teachers included George Enescu and Jacques Thibaud in Paris and Carl Flesch in Spa, Belgium and later in London.
In 1940, during World War II, he went to London where he first worked for two years in a war factory and was then assigned to the artists branch of the British Army. He gave numerous concerts for the Allied soldiers and in war factories.
After the war he made his successful debut with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and subsequently played with the BBC and all other principal orchestras of Great Britain.
In 1950, in Vienna, he made his first commercial recording with the Paganini/ Wilhelmj Concerto under the baton of Kurt Woss (Remington RLP-149-20).